The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing EmpireThe Collapsing Empire

by John Scalzi
Series: The Collapsing Empire, #1

Hardcover, 329 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: March 28 – 29, 2017

I can’t think of a SF release more highly anticipated this year than The Collapsing Empire, the first in a new series (there’s a really good chance that I’ll be saying the same thing in 3 months about something else that I’m spacing at the moment). Thankfully, it surpassed my expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low — this just didn’t sound that interesting) — I can’t speak for the rest of his fanbase who were anticipating it so highly, but I can’t imagine that most weren’t wholly satisfied, and predict he picks up a few fans from this.

The Interdependency is the empire that is made up of the descendants of the people of Earth, it’s been in place for centuries — and, as the title of the book (and series) states, it’s on the verge of collapse. Not from political pressures or outside threats, or anything of that nature. Instead, it’s the Flow. The Flow is the way that humanity travels between the stars — a extra-dimensional field that can be accessed to facilitate travel between planets. And it’s on the verge of changing — not disappearing, just connecting different planets and leaving millions of people without access to the rest of the Empire.

Tricky to explain briefly — but that’s okay, the characters in the book are (with 3 exceptions) learning this about the same time as the reader is and those who explain it do a much better job. Basically, the Empire as they know it is facing the End. There to help the Interdependency through this trying time (not that citizens know about it) is a brand-new, untried Emperox. She and her allies (intentional or otherwise) are going to have to deal with political, business and religious groups to try to help some of humanity survive.

I’ve gotta say that Emperox Grayland II (Cardenia to her friends) is a delightful character — you cannot help but root for her. She’s brave, smart, relatable and an underdog (how someone who rules several planetary systems can be thought of as an underdog is a neat trick). The scientist who travels the length of the Empire to help her understand what’s going on, Marce, is clever, overwhelmed, and the only one who really knows what’s happening (shades of Jor-El?). There’s another character, Lady Kiva, a junior member of a ruling family of one of the largest guilds who is just too much fun — she swears enough to make Marshall Mathers take a step back; has no tact, no diplomacy, and shows no mercy to her enemies (especially if they stand between her and a profit). Really, she’s a horrible person (at least in this book),but a fun, fun character.

These three are our focus, they’re who we cheer for and pin our hopes on. If they can survive the political, scientific, religious, and humanitarian turmoil that’s beginning to bubble — there’s a shot for humanity. Not much of one, honestly, but a shot.

Somehow, Scalzi’s able to take societal collapse and tell it in an entertaining, suspenseful and frequently funny way. He’s able to give a thinly disguised commentary on environmental catastrophe and keep it from getting preachy. Basically, he threads the needle just right to keep people enjoying themselves as they read what would be a heavy, off-putting book in many author’s hands.

Is it perfect? No. Am I crazy about everything he does/tries to do in this book? Nope. But man, such a fun, quick ride that I can’t help but like it and recommend it to everyone I can think of. I was so wrong not to be interested in this book — I’m more than interested in the sequel.


4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Dispatcher (Audiobook) by John Scalzi, Zachary Quinto

The Dispatcher The Dispatcher

by John Scalzi, Zachary Quinto (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs, 19 min.
Audible Studios, 2016

Read: October 5, 2016

Last year, when he was in Boise, I heard John Scalzi read the first chapter of this book and I’ve been waiting for this ever since.

It’s an Urban Fantasy set in a world where natural or accidental death is possible, but if you’re murdered there’s an almost 100% possibility that you’ll come back to life. Huh? Yeah — heckuva hook, right? There’s no explanation for this, it just started — and it may just end at some point. But in the meantime people are taking full advantage of this.

Tony Valdez is a dispatcher — insurance companies and individuals have started hiring dispatchers to “dispatch” someone just before they die, so there’s a good chance — a fantastic chance, really — that they’ll survive. One of Tony’s coworkers has disappeared and a Chicago police detective has drafted him to help her track down his colleague. To find him, they have to look into the dark side of the dispatcher trade and the desperate lengths some will go through to extend the lives of their loved ones or themselves.

It was a fun book to listen to, a story that drew you in and drug you along to the gripping end. But once it was over, and I started thinking about it, all sorts of questions came to mind, not really plot holes, just things that weren’t adequately addressed. I think a lot of it was length, if this had been a novel, some of them wouldn’t have come up. The more I thought of it, it was almost like this novella was Scalzi’s attempt to prove a point/win a bet that, yes, he can write UF. A strongly written, convincing story that entertained from beginning to end — but there was just no heart to it, it just seemed like a writing exercise.

Quinto did a bang-up job — I think I only thought of him as the actor once or twice — he nailed every bit of this. If that whole movie star thing doesn’t work out for him, he could have a future doing this sort of thing. I should probably give this an extra star just for his work.

Very entertaining, a great experience — just don’t think about it too terribly much.


3 Stars

John Scalzi and Shane Kuhn in Boise

If you’d asked me, I would’ve said I’ve written and posted this already. Apparently not. Whoops! Thanks for letting me know, Paul. So, I’ll take a quick break from packing up all my white clothes and get this up now. Better late than never, I guess. . . .
At the end of August, the best bookstore in Boise, Rediscovered Books, brought two authors to town for Readings/Signings. Back in college, I went to readings fairly frequently*, but since then I could count the number on one hand.

Shame on me. I need to do better at this. A good reading is one of the best forms of entertainment around. A less-good reading is pretty bad, but hey, at least you’re supporting the arts.

Anyway, the first author was John Scalzi. Perhaps you’ve heard of him — SF author extraordinaire, blogger, tweeter, etc., etc. Back on August 20, Rediscovered Books brought him to the auditorium of the Boise Public Library! (yes, the exclamation point is necessary). I wondered if that wasn’t overkill for SF in Boise. Not surprisingly, I was wrong and the people that do this stuff for a living were right. If they’d brought him to the bookstore, there’s no way we all could’ve fit, the audience packed the auditorium.

After a little chit-chat, he read a little from his upcoming novella The Dispatcher, his first foray into Urban Fantasy. He asked not to provide any details, as the only people getting this preview were those who came to this book tour. He did give us permission to — maybe even encouraged — gloat about hearing it. So, here we go: neener neener my wife and I got to hear the first chapter of The Dispatcher and most of you didn’t. It was pretty good, and I’ll be grabbing it as soon as I can.

He then read a couple of short humor pieces he wrote for back in the 90’s that were appropriate for the Back to School season, and a pretty popular (and funny) blog post, Standard Responses to Online Stupidity. He then he spent 20 minutes or so doing Q&A — he was polite and friendly to the people asking questions, turned even awkward questions into something interesting in his answers (he’s been doing this for awhile).

What didn’t he read? Anything from the book that the tour was promoting — The End of All Things — which I found odd, but I was okay with because I’m way behind on that series. Very entertaining evening — the dude’s a pro.

During the signing, he was again friendly and pleasant and didn’t seem to mind people fanboying/fangirling all over him (which didn’t happen too much or without restraint on the part of the fans). When it was my turn, he laughed at my attempt at humor (which I’m going to believe was because I was moderately funny and not just because he’s sooper polite), gave me a nice, personalized autograph in my copy of The Android’s Dream that went with my joke.

And here’s photographic proof that I met John Scalzi:

A week later, things were a bit different for Shane Kuhn, a favorite around these parts, but largely unknown. Now, Rediscovered Books has been pushing Kuhn lately — he’s a Staff Pick, one of their book clubs read The Intern’s Handbook recently, etc. But a whopping 4 people showed up. Which, sure, provided a nice, intimate setting — but 4? Oh, wait, there were 2 bookstore employees there, too.

That had to be discouraging, but he went on with the show. After taking a poll of who’d read what of his (my wife hadn’t read anything yet, 2 were in various stages of Hostile Takeover, and I’d finished it earlier in the week), he read an early section of Hostile Takeover — the wedding — quitting at just the right spot — it was a good tease, you wanted to know what happened next; and I think the next part would’ve been very, very tricky to read aloud. He then took some questions, it was more of a chat, really. He had this annoying tendency to answer questions I wanted to ask in the middle of another answer, so I ended up not saying anything. Highlights included him talking a little bit about his next book, more of a mainstream thriller; and the process of getting The Intern’s Handbook to the Big Screen. He read another bit from the beginning of The Intern’s Handbook (after teasing my wife about reading the ending), where Alice and John first met.

Despite the low turnout, he didn’t (that I could tell) cut corner’s or half-ass his way through the reading, and was more than friendly to those of us who were there. If he comes back, we’ll do a better job strong-arming friends and family to come so that his audience will be bigger.

Here’s photographic proof that I saw Shane Kuhn (better angle on me than the other). If you go to Rediscovered’s Facebook page and see the photograph I appropriated, you can see 75% of the audience for the reading)

* And not just for the extra credit either. Although that probably kept me at some until the end.

Dusted Off: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)Old Man’s War

by John Scalzi
Mass Market Paperback, 362 pg.
Tor Books, 2007

I have to admit, I came to this with a degree of trepidation. I’ve really enjoyed Scalzi’s “lighter” works and wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get into his more serious SF. Boy, was I wrong. This was a blast–sure, not as funny as Agent to the Stars or The Android’s Dream, but it wasn’t supposed to be, it was still a rollicking good time–action, hard SF, and heart (even a couple of laughs)–everything you could ask for.

It starts out as sort of an inverse Ender’s Game, instead of kids being recruited to fight far-off aliens, we get senior citizens enlisting. Humanity’s colonies are spreading through the galaxy and running into all sorts of other species who are trying to do the same, and conflicts ensue. I can’t think of much more to say here without major spoilers.

Great cast of characters, believable future tech, creepy aliens, intense battles…fun, solid read, really looking forward to the sequel.


4 Stars

Dusted Off: Redshirts by John Scalzi


by John Scalzi
Hardcover, 217 pg.
Tor Books, 2012

This warmed the cockles of my Geek Heart like no book since Ready Player One. I’m not sure how much I can say without getting into spoiler territory, but I’ll try.

It starts off as a funny–but obvious–Star Trek parody, where all the lower ranking crewmen are terrified to go on away missions, for fear of getting killed in stupid and/or horrible ways. Entertaining enough, but…after a couple of chapters, I started to worry this gag was going to get really old over 300 pages.

Which is when Scalzi shook things up by a clever spoilery twist, which he followed quickly by another spoilery twist. And before I knew it, this had become a serious SF book with a comic flair. The codas at the end turn this from a fun adventure into something with a lot of heart and soul–and even more cleverness than the large amount displayed in the main body of the novel.

I so less-than-three this book. Go and read.


5 Stars

Dusted Off: Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Agent to the StarsAgent to the Stars by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short Version: A good, good story told in a fun–often funny–way.

Long Version: In the Author’s Note, while Scalzi is describing the long, strange journey this novel took to get to this particular edition, he calls it the “book that won’t quit.” It took me maybe 50 pages to see why. This is one froody book.

The tone is great, the style is spot on, good satire/commentary on Hollywood’s place in the world, everything about the alien race–their language, appearance, spaceship, ways to interact with humans/other creatures…just wonderfully imaginative.

In case you haven’t read the blurb–an up and coming Hollywood agent is hired by a (by human standards) ugly, nauseatingly smelly alien race to help their “image” so they can make first contact with humanity. Why an agent, why not a President or something? ‘Cuz the aliens know where real power and influence are centered. So, our hero has to balance his Hollywood weirdo clients, the aliens and a nosy journalist who won’t leave him alone; while he comes up with a way to sell this species to humanity.

Funny, funny stuff on many levels and in different ways. But the book has a lot of heart, too. Just a pleasure to read.