Our universe is ruled by physics, and faster-than-light travel is not possible - until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transports us to other worlds, around other stars.
Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It's a hedge against interstellar war - and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.
The Flow is eternal - but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it's discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster-than-light travel forever, three individuals - a scientist, a starship captain, and the empress of the Interdependency - are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.
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The Collapsing Empire
By John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 John Scalzi
All rights reserved.
For the week leading up to his death, Cardenia Wu-Patrick stayed mostly at the bedside of her father, Batrin, who, when he was informed that his condition had reached the limits of medical competence and that palliative care was all that was left to him, decided to die at home, in his favorite bed. Cardenia, who had been aware for some time that the end was close, had cleared her schedule until further notice and had a comfortable chair installed near her father's bed.
"Don't you have better things to do than to sit around here?" Batrin joked to his daughter and sole surviving child, as she sat to begin her morning session with her father.
"Not at the moment," she said.
"I doubt that. I'm pretty sure every time you leave this room to go to the bathroom, you're accosted by minions who need your signature on something."
"No," Cardenia said. "Everything right now is in the hands of the executive committee. Everything is in maintenance mode for the foreseeable future."
"Until I die," Batrin said.
"Until you die."
Batrin laughed at that, weakly, as that is how he did everything at this point. "This is, I'm afraid, all too foreseeable."
"Try not to think about it," Cardenia said.
"Easy for you to say." They both lapsed into a quiet, companionable silence for a few moments, until Batrin grimaced silently at a noise and turned to his daughter.
"What is that?"
Cardenia cocked her head slightly. "You mean the singing?"
"There's singing going on?"
"You have a crowd of well-wishers outside," Cardenia said.
Batrin smiled at that. "You're sure that's what they are?"
Batrin Wu, Cardenia's father, was formally Attavio VI, Emperox of the Holy Empire of the Interdependent States and Mercantile Guilds, King of Hub and Associated Nations, Head of the Interdependent Church, Successor to Earth and Father of All, Eighty-seventh Emperox of the House of Wu, which claimed its lineage to the Prophet-Emperox Rachela I, founder of the Interdependency and Savior of Humanity.
"We're sure," Cardenia said. The two of them were at Brighton, the imperial residence at Hubfall, the capital of Hub and her father's favorite residence. The formal imperial seat lay several thousand klicks up the gravity well, at Xi'an, the sprawling space station that hovered over the surface of Hub, visible to Hubfall like a giant reflective plate flung out into the darkness — or would be, if most of Hubfall were anywhere near the planet surface. Hubfall, like all the cities of Hub, was first blasted, then carved, into the rock of the planet, with only occasional service domes and structures peppering the surface. Those domes looked out on an eternal twilight, waiting for a sunrise the tidally locked planet would never offer, and which, if it did, would bake Hub's citizens, screaming, like potatoes in a broiler.
Attavio VI hated Xi'an and never stayed there longer than absolutely necessary. He certainly had no intention of dying there. Brighton was his home, and outside it, a thousand or more well-wishers pooled near its gate, cheering for him and occasionally breaking out into the imperial anthem or "What Say You," the cheering song for the imperial football team. All of the well-wishers, Cardenia knew, had been thoroughly vetted before they were allowed within a klick of Brighton's gate and within earshot of the emperox. Some of them didn't even have to be paid to show up.
"How many did we have to pay?" Batrin asked.
"Hardly any," Cardenia said.
"I had to pay all three thousand people who showed up to cheer my mother on her deathbed. I had to pay them a lot."
"You're more popular than your mother was." Cardenia had never met her grandmother, Emperox Zetian III, but the tales from history were toe-curling.
"A rock would be more popular than my mother," Batrin said. "But you shouldn't fool yourself, my child. No emperox of the Interdependency has ever been that popular. It's not in the job description."
"You were more popular than most, at least," Cardenia suggested.
"That's why you only had to pay some of the people outside the window."
"I could have them dismissed, if you like."
"They're fine. See if they take requests."
Presently Batrin napped again and when Cardenia was sure he was asleep, she got up from her chair and exited into her father's private office, which she had commandeered from him for the duration and which would be hers soon enough in any event. As she exited her father's bedroom she saw a squadron of medical professionals, headed by Qui Drinin, imperial physician, descend upon her father to clean him, check his vitals, and make sure he was as comfortable as someone who was dealing with a painful and incurable disease from which he would never recover could be.
In the private office was Naffa Dolg, Cardenia's recently appointed chief of staff. Naffa waited until Cardenia had reached into the office's small refrigerator, acquired a soft drink, sat down, opened the drink, had two swallows from the container, then set the drink down on her father's desk.
"Coaster," Naffa said to her boss.
"Really?" Cardenia said back.
Naffa pointed. "That desk was originally the desk of Turinu II. It is six hundred fifty years old. It was a gift to him by the father of Genevieve N'don, who would become his wife after —"
Cardenia held up a hand. "Enough." She reached over on the desk, grabbed a small leather-bound book, pulled it over to her, and set her drink on it. Then she caught Naffa's expression. "What now?"
"Oh, nothing," Naffa said. "Just that your 'coaster' is a first edition of Chao's Commentaries on the Racheline Doctrines, which means it's nearly a thousand years old and unspeakably priceless and even thinking of setting a drink can on it is probably blasphemy of the highest order."
"Oh, for God's sake." Cardenia took another swig of her drink and then set it on the carpet next to the desk. "Happy? I mean, unless the carpet is also unspeakably priceless."
"Can we stipulate that everything in this room except the two of us is probably hundreds of years old, originally gifted to one of my ancestors by another immensely famous historical personage, and that it is priceless or at least worth more than most humans will make in their lifetimes? Is there anything in this room that does not fit that description?"
Naffa pointed to the refrigerator. "I think that's just a refrigerator."
Cardenia finally found a coaster on the desk, picked her drink up off the carpet, and set it on it. "This coaster is probably four hundred years old and the gift of the Duke of End," she said, then looked at her assistant. "Don't tell me if it is."
"I won't." Naffa pulled out her tablet.
"But you know, don't you."
"You have requests from the executive committee," Naffa said, ignoring her boss's last comment.
Cardenia threw up her hands. "Of course I do." The executive committee consisted of three guild representatives, three ministers of parliament, and three archbishops of the church. In other times, the committee was the emperox's direct link to the three centers of power in the Interdependency. At the moment they were charged with maintaining the continuity of government during these final days of the emperox's reign. They were driving Cardenia a little batty.
"First, they want you to make an appearance on the networks to, as they put it, 'calm the fears of the empire' regarding your father's situation."
"He's dying, and quickly," Cardenia said. "I'm not sure that's calming."
"I think they'd prefer something a little more inspiring. They sent over a speech."
"There's no point reassuring the empire. By the time my speech reaches End he'll have been dead for nine standard months. Even Bremen is two weeks away."
"There's still Hub and Xi'an and associated nations in-system. The furthest of those is only five light-hours out."
"They already know he's dying."
"It's not about him dying. It's about continuity."
"The Wu dynasty stretches back a thousand years, Naffa. No one is really that worried about continuity."
"That's not the continuity they're worried about. They're worried about their day-to-day lives. No matter who would become emperox, things change. There are three hundred million imperial subjects in-system, Cardenia. You're the heir. They know the dynasty won't change. It's everything else."
"I can't believe you're on the side of the executive committee here."
"Stopped clock. Twice a day."
"Have you read the speech?"
"I have. It's awful."
"Are you rewriting it?"
"Already rewritten, yes."
"They wanted to know if you've changed your position on Amit Nohamapetan."
"My position on what? Meeting with him or marrying him?"
"I would think they're hoping the first will lead to the second."
"I've met him once before. It's why I don't want to meet with him again. I'm definitely not going to marry him."
"The executive committee, perhaps anticipating your reluctance, wishes to remind you that your brother, the late crown prince, had agreed in principle to marry Nadashe Nohamapetan."
"I would rather marry her than her brother."
"Anticipating that you might say that, the executive committee wishes to remind you that option would also probably be acceptable to all parties."
"I'm not going to marry her either," Cardenia said. "I don't like either. They're terrible people."
"They're terrible people whose house is ascendant in the mercantile guilds and whose desire for an alliance with the House of Wu would allow the empire a lever with the guilds it hasn't had in centuries."
"Is that you talking or the executive committee?"
"Eighty percent executive committee."
"You're at twenty percent on this?" Cardenia offered mostly feigned shock.
"That twenty percent recognizes that political marriages are a thing that happens to people, like you, who are on the verge of becoming emperox and who, despite having a millennium-long dynasty to fall back on for credibility, still need allies to keep the guilds in line."
"This is where you tell me of all the times in the last thousand years the Wu emperoxs were basically puppets for guild interests, isn't it?" "This is where I remind you that you gave me this position not just out of personal friendship and experience with court politics but because I have a doctorate in the history of the Wu dynasty and know more about your family than you do," Naffa said. "But sure, I could do that other thing, too."
Cardenia sighed. "We're in no danger of becoming guild puppets, though."
Naffa peered over at her boss, silently.
"You're kidding," Cardenia said.
"The House of Wu is its own mercantile family and it has the monopoly on ship building and military weaponry," Naffa said. "Likewise, control of the military runs through the emperox, not the guilds. So, no, it would be difficult for the guilds or any of the houses who control them to make short-term inroads into control of the house or of the empire. That said, your father has been very lax in controlling the mercantile houses and has allowed several of them, including the Nohamapetans, to build power centers that are unprecedented in the last two hundred years. This is, of course, leaving out the church entirely, which is its own power center. And you can expect to see all of these try to grab more power for themselves because you are expected to be a weak emperox."
"Thanks," Cardenia said, dryly.
"It's not personal. Your ascendance to the crown was unexpected."
"Tell me about it."
"No one knows what to think of you."
"Except the executive committee, who wants to marry me off."
"They want to preserve an existing potential alliance."
"An alliance with terrible people."
"Really nice people don't usually accrue power."
"You're saying I'm kind of an outlier," Cardenia said.
"I don't recall saying you were nice," Naffa replied.
* * *
"None of this was supposed to be your problem," Batrin said to Cardenia, later. She was back in his bedroom, sitting in the chair. The medical staff that had worried on him while he was asleep had retreated to nearby rooms. It was just the two of them again, plus an array of medical equipment.
"I know," Cardenia said. They'd had this conversation before, but she knew they were about to have it again.
"It was your brother who was groomed for all of this," Batrin continued, and Cardenia nodded as he droned on slowly. Her brother, Rennered Wu, was actually her half brother. He was the son of the imperial consort Glenna Costu, while Cardenia was the result of a brief liaison between the emperox and Cardenia's mother, Hannah, a professor of ancient languages. Hannah Patrick met the emperox while giving him a tour of the rare books collection of the Spode Library at the University of Hubfall. The two corresponded on academics after that and then, a few years after the sudden death of the imperial consort, the emperox gifted Hannah Patrick first with a rare edition of the Qasidat-ul-Burda, and subsequently, not too long thereafter, and a bit to the surprise of both, with Cardenia.
Rennered was already the heir and Hannah Patrick, upon reflection, decided that she would rather step out of an airlock than become a permanent fixture of the imperial court. As a result, Cardenia's childhood was pampered but far removed from the trappings of actual power. Cardenia was acknowledged as a child of the emperox and saw her famous father regularly but infrequently. She would occasionally be teased by classmates, who might call her "princess," but not too often or too viciously, because as it turns out she was a princess and her imperial security detail was sensitive to slights.
Her childhood and early adult years were as normal as they could be when one is the daughter of the most powerful human in the known universe, which was to say not very but close enough that Cardenia could see normal, distantly, from there. She attended the University of Hubfall, received degrees in modern literature and education, and upon graduation gave serious thought to becoming a professional patron of some arts-related programs and initiatives for the underadvantaged.
Then Rennered had to go get himself killed while racing, slamming himself and his charmingly retro automobile into a wall during a charity exhibition race with actual race car drivers and basically decapitating himself in the process. Cardenia never watched the video of the crash — that was her brother, why would she — but she read the forensics report afterward, which while clearing the event of any suspicion of foul play, noted the safety features of the automobile and the unlikelihood of the accident being fatal, much less one that ended in decapitation.
Cardenia later learned that at the charity auction after the race Rennered was supposed to have publicly announced his engagement to Nadashe Nohamapetan. The confluence of those two events stayed firmly connected in her mind afterward.
Cardenia had never been very close to Rennered — Rennered was a teenager when she was born and their circles never meshed — but he had treated her kindly. As a child she idolized him and his playboy ways from afar, and as she grew older and saw how much of the crush of imperial fame had passed by her to land on his shoulders, was quietly relieved he was there to shoulder it. He seemed to enjoy it more than she ever would.
He was gone and then suddenly the empire needed another heir for emperox.
"I think I lost you there," Batrin said.
"I'm sorry," Cardenia said. "I was thinking of Rennered. I wish he were still here."
"So do I. Although perhaps for different reasons."
"I would be happier if he were succeeding you. A lot of people would be."
"That's certain, my child. But Cardenia, listen to me. I don't regret that you are succeeding me."
"I mean it. Rennered would have made a perfectly good emperox. He was literally born for the role, just as I was. You weren't. But that's not a bad thing."
"I think it's a bad thing. I don't know what I'm doing," Cardenia confessed.
"None of us knew what we were doing," Batrin said. "The difference is that you know it. If Rennered were here, he'd be just as clueless but more confident. Which is why he'd faceplant right out of the gate, just like I did, and my mother, and my grandfather. Perhaps you'll break the family tradition."
Excerpted from The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2017 John Scalzi. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Solid plot, great pace, well placed f@#k talk... I love how Mr. Scalzi's characters talk like real people (but don't sound like caricatures). I never fail to like his books. This is no exception.
It was a good read.
What a fun book about the possible extinction of the human race! Fast paced with interesting concepts, exploration of morals, believable action, and a GREAT range of characters. Normally, I don't care for swearing, but that's until I met Lady Kiva, who made me laugh out loud and totally love her. I can't wait for the sequel. This is the best sci-fi book I've read since Bujold's Vorkosigan series.
A very engaging story.
I've come to believe there's no such thing as a bad Scalzi book. If there is here's hiding it, only to prove me wrong and will release it as soon as he hears I wrote something along these lines. Mac
Can't wait for a sequel. Want to see more character development, far too many of them seem like the same version of a caricature. But the concept is fascinating and there's so much potential for an epic saga of humanity gripping on to a dying system.
This is a great read. It has a creative premise, interesting characters, and great action. It's not the same sort of book that Old Man's War is. I think it's a better one.
Not up to 'Old Man Wars' quality. It's a slug to get through and I was really looking forward to this book. I think the author's picture on leaf speaks to mind set for this book.
Instead of faster than light travel the universe uses something called The Flow. The flow is akin to currents on the ocean. This is how the far flung empire of humans is able to maintain its existence. One problem: the Flow is collapsing. The world that Scalzi has created is a balance of power between the Emperox, the Parliament, The Church, and the Merchant Guilds. With a brand new Emperox on the throne and the flow collapsing the political order is in trouble. This was my first John Scalzi book to read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is paced well, the overall plot is entertaining, the characters are fun and intriguing. A lot of readers are criticizing this book because of the writer's politics. I probably disagree with Mr. Scalzi far more often than I agree. That doesn't matter in the least when it comes to an enjoyable book. I look forward to reading the next book in this series.
I enjoyed this book fully. Fast paced, good story line.
I always like his stories
Fantastic with great characters
Move along home.
Fast paced and interesting concepts, as usual with a Scalzi novel.
Liked it lots.
Love that John makes his characters feel real, and he spins a good plot.
Good read. Mostly setup.