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The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
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First, the good news – The Collapsing Empire is a smart, entertaining, easily digestible page turner. In other words, it’s a John Scalzi novel. It’s also a nice bit of old fashioned sci-fi fun – heroes do heroic things and villains do villainous things, the story has nice momentum and the world-building is fun.
Trying to figure out why I felt unsatisfied by the book is a little harder to explain, especially when I basically had a good time reading it. I think it comes down to the fact that it proclaims itself a “first book in a series”, and feels like it went a little overboard with its first-bookiness. The setup takes too long and there’s way more info-dumping than we need to get acclimated to this world. There’s a lot of talkiness in the middle (and I mean A LOT) and while much of it is fun Scalzian banter, it wore me down a little bit. The action started to pick up and there were some nice turns and reversals in the last few chapters, but as soon as it really felt like it was gathering steam for an epic climax, the book literally just stops happening.
And by “stops happening”, I mean I kept turning the last page back and forth to see if the rest of the book would appear. I wondered for a second if there was a glitch in the Kindle edition that accidently left off the last chapter or two and that I would get an apologetic email from Amazon any minute telling me to go to my account and download the update. Alas, no, the ending of the book did not magically appear by the power of my will, nor did Amazon send a patch. Scalzi just said “Nope – saving it for the sequel, folks!”
Imagine, if you will, that Scalzi had decided not to write the last two chapters of Old Man’s War. I mean, imagine that for a second. Perry convinces Jane to put him on the team, then they get ready to speed off for the epic battle with the fate of humankind in the balance – and it stops there. Do you think “Don’t worry! There’s a sequel coming! We’ll get to that later!” would have made that book the classic that it is today?
I guess that’s the difference between a hungry writer and a well fed one. I don’t think this book would have ended the way it did if this had been Scalzi’s first novel and he was trying to build a readership. When he decided to end The Collapsing Empire the way he did, he was leaning on the good will he has engendered with readers over the years, and I don’t think that’s something any writer should fall back on at any point in their career. You run the risk of taking your readership for granted, and that’s exactly how The Collapsing Empire made me feel.
I realize his approach to this series is different from OMW – as in he’s telling one big story through a series of novels rather than writing a series of stand-alone sequels – but that feels more like an excuse than an enticement. And, yes, I’m going to buy the sequel. I like these characters and this world and I want to see what happens next, though that still would have been true even if Scalzi had written an actual ending for this book. At least in that case, it would have left me ONLY wanting more instead of also feeling a little cheated.
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Reading Progress

June 23, 2016 – Shelved
June 23, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
April 15, 2017 – Started Reading
April 17, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Philip (new) - added it

Philip " It proclaims itself a “first book in a series”, and feels like it went a little overboard with its first-bookiness.

I totally know what you mean. Kind of annoying when you can't read the next book right away.


Gary Philip wrote: "" It proclaims itself a “first book in a series”, and feels like it went a little overboard with its first-bookiness.

I totally know what you mean. Kind of annoying when you can't read the next bo..."


That's exactly what I was thinking when I finished reading - don't do something like that unless the sequel is already out or coming out shortly. I read somewhere that Scalzi is planning a Lock In sequel next so it could be a year or more before the next Interdependency book drops. Can't leave your fans hanging like that.


Nate I can't Like or Agree with this review enough... Felt exactly the same way where overall I enjoyed the story and I will most likely read a sequel to it but there was definitely an underlying feeling that something was missing which you captured. I blame Marvel (and the movie industry of late) for starting this trend towards each movie being a springboard for another 10 versus a focused, all-in-one, self-contained tightly written storyline. Having not read anything else by Scalzi, I can't say I would make an effort to read his other works based off of this one. But I have had more than a few people highly recommend his Redshirts novel and a few of his other books.


Gary Nate wrote: "I can't Like or Agree with this review enough... Felt exactly the same way where overall I enjoyed the story and I will most likely read a sequel to it but there was definitely an underlying feelin..."

Nate, you should read Old Man's War. It is a book that completely lives up to it reputation as one of the great sci-fi adventure novels of the 21st century. Honestly, Redshirts is fun but can't hold a candle to OMW.


message 5: by Denise (new)

Denise agreed about old man's war. wonderful. also agreed about the comments in this thread. i listened to it (as opposed to reading it) and when i heard "epilogue," i thought, whaaat? and after the last line i actually yelled "you have GOT to be kidding me!" i think i will read it now because wil wheaton's narration was a little too over the top and i think i would be less annoyed by some aspects of the book if i read them instead of listening.


Gary Denise wrote: "agreed about old man's war. wonderful. also agreed about the comments in this thread. i listened to it (as opposed to reading it) and when i heard "epilogue," i thought, whaaat? and after the last ..."

Yep. I had the same feeling when I turned the last page and saw "Epilogue".


Leseparatist Same.

And I think there was definitely some infodumping that could have been cut / dropped without sacrificing any content because I feel like the way the flow works was explained some four times.


Gary Leseparatist wrote: "Same.

And I think there was definitely some infodumping that could have been cut / dropped without sacrificing any content because I feel like the way the flow works was explained some four times."


It certainly was explained several times, and the successive explanations added nothing to our understanding. I can appreciate an author striving for clarity, but jeez, we got it the first time! I swear if the first chapter of the sequel explains how the flow works one more time, I'm going to throw my Kindle at the wall :-)


message 9: by Tea73 (new)

Tea73 Same experience, I kept looking for the missing chapter. IMO a good series has books that stand alone AND have an overarching plot.


message 10: by Gary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary Tea73 wrote: "Same experience, I kept looking for the missing chapter. IMO a good series has books that stand alone AND have an overarching plot."

Agreed.


HBalikov Hey Gary, I have heard two explanations for this abrupt ending:
1. Scalzi wrote a whole book and his publisher decided two are better than one; or,
2. Scalzi now is adopting the "cliffhanger" writing style.

Any further thoughts?


message 12: by Gary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary HBalikov wrote: "Hey Gary, I have heard two explanations for this abrupt ending:
1. Scalzi wrote a whole book and his publisher decided two are better than one; or,
2. Scalzi now is adopting the "cliffhanger" writi..."



Hmm. I think number 2 is closer to an explanation. I'm pretty sure he intended this to be a serial from the start, and the length of this book (80,000-ish words) matches up with what he has stated is his ideal length for a novel. The problem is that the ending isn't so much a cliffhanger as a tease - a setup for "something cool that will happen later". If he had given us a big epic climax and then left us with a cliffhanger ending, I wouldn't object so much. The fact is, he gave us neither and that's what I find frustrating.


HBalikov Gary wrote: "HBalikov wrote: "Hey Gary, I have heard two explanations for this abrupt ending:
1. Scalzi wrote a whole book and his publisher decided two are better than one; or,
2. Scalzi now is adopting the "c..."


Yep, makes sense, Gary. Thanks for the insight/warning.


message 14: by Sherron (new) - added it

Sherron Thanks for the heads-up! Cliffhanger endings in a series is a huge pet peeve of mine, so I'll wait until the series is a bit more fleshed out before I will start with this book.

Also, thanks for the info about the long, informational sections of world-building. I love audiobooks, but I'll get this on epub or paper--it will be easier to skim the elaborations that way.

Scalzi is pretty funny, so I'm sad I'll have to wait.


message 15: by Gary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary Sherron wrote: "Thanks for the heads-up! Cliffhanger endings in a series is a huge pet peeve of mine, so I'll wait until the series is a bit more fleshed out before I will start with this book.

Also, thanks for ..."


Your welcome Sherron. I hope we get to see the next book by the end of 2018, but 2019 is probably a safer bet, since he already has the Lock In sequel set for this coming April.


message 16: by John (new) - rated it 3 stars

John What upset me the most is the fact that he thanks people for his new multi book publishing deal, and admits this book was late. So essentially he cut it off because it was past the deadline, and so he can fulfil contractual obligations at the sake of telling his story


message 17: by Gary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gary John wrote: "What upset me the most is the fact that he thanks people for his new multi book publishing deal, and admits this book was late. So essentially he cut it off because it was past the deadline, and so..."

It's possible, but they delayed the release for six months and gave him plenty of time to finish it the way he wanted after he missed his deadline. He wrote a blog post about it where he explains how the book turned out, including the statement "This is also the first novel I wrote knowing for certain that there would be at least a book two in the series; it’s specified in that big damn contract I signed with Tor. Old Man’s War was written as a stand-alone, for example — I didn’t know if they’d want a sequel. Likewise, Lock In (whose sequel is the next novel on my docket) was written without knowing whether Tor would want a followup. The Collapsing Empire, on the other hand, was explicitly part of a multi-book series deal." He turned in his revised version with more than enough time to spare (early October, for late March release date), so I think the book's ending was a deliberate choice to set up the sequel, not a rush to turn something in without finishing it. The statement about his lateness in the Acknowledgements was most likely a reference to missing his initial deadline that caused Tor to move back the release date. You can read the full blog post here: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/10/1...

The good news is that I'm just about done with The Consuming Fire and I'm liking it a great deal more - less talky, better pacing. I still have about 1/3 of the book to go but it appears to be setting up for a more satisfying climax, assuming he doesn't pull the same crap he did with the first book.


HBalikov Gary wrote: "John wrote: "What upset me the most is the fact that he thanks people for his new multi book publishing deal, and admits this book was late. So essentially he cut it off because it was past the dea..."

Thanks, Gary!


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