Reading, Reviews

Book Review: John Scalzi’s Interdependency Trilogy

The Interdependency Trilogy by John Scalzi, including: The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, and The Last Emperox is a set of fast paced scifi political thrillers full of great characters and snappy dialogue.

“It was just a dream.”
“In our line of business, there’s no such thing. Emperox’s never just dream they have visions. That’s what we do, or what we were supposed to do when I became the first Emperox.”
“Well, I had the thing and it wasn’t a vision. It was a dream.”
“It was a dream that made you think. A dream that caused you to search for wisdom. A dream that made you consult me, the prophet. Sounds like a vision to me.”
Gardenia gawked at Raquela the First. “You’re unbelievable.”
“I worked in marketing,” Raquela the First said, “before I was a prophet. After too, but we didn’t call it that after that point.”

The Interdependency Trilogy by John Scalzi

Scalzi made a splash on the Sci-Fi scene with his debut novel, Old Man’s War, which is sort of a spiritual successor to Robert Heinlein’s, Starship Troopers, with heroic battles against aliens and maybe not so much of the politics, which are potentially problematic in Starship Troopers.

Whenever you read a Scalzi book you get the sense he’s writing what he wants to read himself. This is classic Sci-Fi Adventure. A Galactic Empire faces destruction as it’s faster than light travel network collapses due to natural causes. It’s light, fast, humorous, packed with a decent amount of PG sex and R-rated language, but more than anything it’s playful.

It’s such an easy read, in fact, that reading the entire Trilogy takes about as long as individual books by more long-winded authors. The writing goes down easy with such a strong focus on plot and dialogue that the reader hardly realizes that 90% of these books is about politics.

Now, one downside of that easy reading style is that there is no flourish here. There’s no prose poetry. In fact, there’s a lot of empty environments where you don’t really need to know, and you don’t really care, where the characters are at. It’s just about the interaction between them and for some readers, myself included, that’s not necessarily what we want. I like having more of a balance of interesting settings alongside my interesting characters.

Another problem that these books occasionally run into is that the characters can have the sort of problem that you see in some Joss Whedon works where they all sound a bit too witty. But they are all distinctive and lovable. Although, I must say that I was a little bit disappointed in parts with the development of the characters. They felt a bit flat.

I mean, is being argumentative and horny an entire personality?

At least all the characters are distinctive, with the possible exception of the villains who are all varying levels of stupid and very high levels of greedy.

There is a lot of humor in these books and it’s more like silliness than it is outright jokes. But this book is trying to have its cake and eat it too in terms of having a serious dramatic plot where the stakes are extremely high, but it’s also trying to keep this tongue-in-cheek humor; so it is very much a mixture of thriller pacing and plotting with a light-hearted vibe.

But sometimes that silliness undercuts the drama that the author might be trying to get across. So again, in terms of balance, for me, sometimes the humor went too far.

I think it all comes back to the fact that it really feels like Scalzi is writing what he wants to read and if you also want to read that same thing, then these books are perfect for you. What he enjoys is a rip roaring, fast-paced, dialogue-heavy, straightforward Sci-Fi Adventure/Political Thriller. So if that sounds good, you will probably enjoy The Interdependency Trilogy. Oh and by the way, Will Wheaton narrates the audiobook, so if you’re big Will Wheaton fan you might want to check those out.

And lastly, spoiler warning, I am going to talk a little bit about the ending. I’m not going to talk any specifics, but I feel that any conversation about the ending of a book or in this case a Trilogy is worth putting up a spoiler warning. So if you think you would enjoy these books based on what I’ve said so far please, by all means, go out and get them and stop here. You’re not missing much.

I just have to complain about the ending. The ending disappointed me. It felt like the lead up to future books, which there are not. This is the end. The first two books in the series don’t really end either, so much as they simply stop until you pick up the next book in the series and that should have been a warning sign.

Frankly, I think that the sort of non-ending that occurs at the end of the series is lazy and most authors cannot and should not be able to get away with it. I understand that the major problem facing everyone in this universe is gigantic and systemic and there’s a fairly obvious analogy to be made to global warming. So it would have been trite to just wrap it up all neatly in a box with a ribbon and say “Ah we solved it! It’s all good!”

However, I expected more than what I got, which was basically, “Well now we have a plan and a way forward, and it’s gonna be tough, but we’re gonna do the hard work because billions of lives hang in the balance.”

What? No! You’ve been wasting time for three whole novels dicking around with political backstabbing and your ending is, “Now we have a plan for the problem that was introduced as the main serious problem in book one!”

You can fuck all the way off with that bullshit!

If you, dear reader, enjoy a fun sci-fi ride, fairly straightforward, almost reads like a screenplay in parts, it’s so dialogue heavy, I still recommend this trilogy. But if you crave closure and you’re going to be upset when you don’t get it, then I think you can look elsewhere. The ending left a bad taste in my mouth, which is really a shame because I know Scalzi is widely loved and I want to love him. I really truly believe that my writing style is in some respects similar to his own; similar in vibe and pacing, and different in other ways, of course. So I want to like this stuff and I want other people to like it as well because it is the kind of thing that I want to write, but the ending on this one… I was disappointed and I think he can do better.


1 thought on “Book Review: John Scalzi’s Interdependency Trilogy”

  1. Another thoughtful review, Neal. You’ve made me a lot more aware of what the trends in genre writing are right now, and your funny and well thought out comments summarize things nicely. Again and again, I’m brought to the same conclusion both as a reader and as a writer: CHARACTER is everything. It’s possible, if hard, to have characters without a plot, but it’s impossible to have a plot without characters.

    I’ve avoided books like this in the past, as well as backstabbing intrigue books like Game of Thrones and The Mists of Avalon. I can get plenty of that watching the news.

    I looked up a few of the names. Upeksha is a Sanskrit name, but Nadashe appears to just be made up, so I think the former is either a coincidence or just grabbed without context.

    Minor point: you’re being way too nice calling the politics of Starship Troopers “potentially problematic.” It’s full-blown corporate fascism.

    Another one: Your pitch for your book is lukewarm. It essentially said, “if you liked this so-so book, so is mine! It is sort of the same, or at least I think it is, and I don’t think it sucks all that much. Buy it. Or not. I guess.”

    Liked by 1 person

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