John Scalzi’s latest is the first in a new series. The setting is the main point of interest here. Humanity has spread to the stars via FTL travel, but is now at the mercy of nature as the means of that travel begins to fail. Scalzi’s “Interdependency” is based on a forced interconnected reliance network — no system can survive on its own. 

Which of course is the first problem with this story — why would you build a society that way, knowing that you’re at the mercy of nature? They know it works that way — that’s why they can’t go to Earth anymore. But okay, I’ll give him that one as a premise. After all, most human societal constructs are flawed in SOME way.

Cover artwork without titling. I don’t know who the artist is, but I like the classic SciFi space opera painting. 

The story is reminiscent of many classic SF tales. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, Asimov’s Foundation, and Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all came to mind while reading Collapsing. Some more modern similarities came to mind, particularly in the space opera subgenre, such as Weber’s Honor Harrington novels (for the socio-political setting, not the swashbuckling).

This book was entertaining, but doesn’t really stand on its own, and most readers may be better served waiting for the series to be completed. It’s clearly setting the table, and I think I’ll have to reserve some judgement until I see where it goes. It also suffers from the short format that Scalzi prefers, which I don’t fault him for (diversity in writing styles is important), and this, too, is obviously addressed by the forthcoming books.

Scalzi is something of a quandry for me. His work often seems superficial and incredibly brief, and out of place in this modern era of long-format storytelling. Whether it’s 7 or 8 seasons of a television story, or ten-book, thousand-page-each fantasy novels, or Marvel’s fascinating experiment with multi-property crossovers, everything today seems to be about lengthy, drawn-out stories that require a lot of patience from the reader.

C. J. Cherryh_1981_Downbelow Station
Scalzi’s newest novel reminded me a lot of Downbelow Station.

For the most part I think that’s a good thing, as I love long stories. But that’s never been Scalzi’s way — he dwells in one-offs and short-format stories. Even his series tend to be comprised of novels that stand well on their own, such as Old Man’s War (for which this blog is named). So it’s a little surprising to see him tackle something a little more extended here. But I think he made a mistake making this first volume so short. It needs another act or two to really suck us in for the greater story to come. Still, I appreciate the effort and welcome the apparent willingness to extend out of his comfort zone. Scalzi may at times seem like the reincarnation of Michael Crichton — an airport novelist extraordinaire — but he’s earned his place on my “Top Shelf” list.

For the audio edition, Wil Wheaton (who also narrated Lock In, Scalzi’s previous novel) attacks the narrative with his usual, slightly scenery-chewing enthusiasm. What he lacks with accents and other vocal distinctions between characters, he more than makes up for with sheer gusto and a clear awareness of (and interest in) the story, which is always important for an audiobook reader.

On the whole, this is a good (if too short) read, and I look forward to the next chapters of this series.