I've been on a John Scalzi kick lately, having only recently discovered his writing. Most of his stories have been really enjoyable, especially with Wil Wheaton narrating them. I love space opera and social commentary, and this book has both.
The Collapsing Empire: The Interdependency, Book 1 is science fiction space opera written by John Scalzi. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.
In the future, mankind is spread out on several planets and moons throughout the galaxy connected by a naturally occurring phenomenon called The Flow that allows different points of space to be connected so that light years can be transversed in a few months. They've formed the Interdependency ruled by an Emperox who is both leader of the government and the state sponsored church. The old Emperox dies and is succeeded by his daughter who discovers the whole Interdependency is a lie and disaster is coming.
Social Commentary. The point of this book is NOT to explore some cool new scientific theory or build some cool new world. The point is to make a social commentary on people and their interactions with each other in the realms of business, government, religion, and other social interactions. Everything else (characters, plot, science) is basically a plot device to illustrate this exploration. The author makes several interesting observations without drawing too many definite conclusions or trying to force a particular political or social philosophy on the readers (although it's pretty clear the author has very liberal leanings).
Characters. The characters are really fun and a bit outrageous. They're not well developed in the traditional sense, because as I stated earlier, that isn't the point. They're little more than caricatures, and as such, are slightly exaggerated to make certain points and commentary about human behavior and human interactions.
Story. While the point of this novel is social commentary, this book still has a very interesting story with lots of action and interaction. It's well paced.
Prologue. The prologue is really boring. It's a mutiny mixed with a natural disaster, but it comes out as a particularly bad episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The characters are very flat, the action boring, and the tone very different from the rest of the novel. I almost returned the book after listening to it is was so disappointing. But then the main story begins and it is a fun ride after that.
Lack of Science. It's pretty obvious John Scalzi has a degree in Philosophy and not the hard sciences. His books are very philosophical and deal with the ramifications of science and other things than the actual mechanics. While this is very entertaining, it makes the stories feel weaker than they need to and his opinions less well thought out. For example, in this story, a scientific phenomenon known as The Flow is essential to the story. It's what connects one world to another and makes it possible for one group to control the others. And it's demise is what is motivating much of the action. And yet there is no attempt to even explain it. While I appreciate the author not making up some nonsense and admitting The Flow just is, it also lends an air of amateurishness to an otherwise excellent story.
What I Would Like to Have Seen
I would have liked to have seen a little more thought put into the science and characters that were a little more characters and a little less caricatures. While all of that would work well and be ideal for a short story, in a long novel that is part of a multi-novel series it is a little weak and will make it hard to sustain long-term interest and any big surprises or developments.
The Collapsing Empire: The Interdependency, Book 1 is a humorous science fiction space opera that deals with politics, economics, social institutions, and the effects that changing natural phenomena have on human civilizations. It's heavy on social commentary and humor and light on actual science and adventure. I give it 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.