Listening to John Scalzi’s short story The Dispatcher proved a pleasant experience, so when the time come to chose something new to listen to on my daily walk to and from work my choice fell on his The Collapsing Empire, performed by Wil Wheaton.
And a performance it is. I am sure the story is an excellent read, but the audio version is a delight. The attitude and demeanor of every character, however minor, is clearly communicated through the audio medium. There are of course many able voices reading books out there, but Wheaton score very high on the list. I haven’t heard him read anything else, so perhaps it is that he enjoy this particular story – I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the reading is good.
The story, then: space opera. Space opera galore. Humankind has never mastered the physics of faster than light interstellar space travel. Instead the society depends on “streams” in space, called The Flow. A ship can get onto the stream, and then has to drift along on it, until an “exit shoal” allows the ship to leave the stream. At these shoals human society has built space stations.
Some systems are connected to multiple other systems – others are not.
Naming is prosaic. “Hub” is where he most streams connect, and here’s where government resides; “End” is the most faraway system, with only one connection.
Politics and economy are intertwined, medieval in kind, and lead by the ruling Wu family by force of being in control of the Hub transport system. Other families have been awarded monopolies; in wine, fruits, anything you can imagine being traded. Families feud, vie for power, concoct schemes. In short, life goes on. Until. But then you knew that; no story if things just goes on as usual. And what changes is the one thing that the economy and power structure rests upon – the workings of The Flow.
The story has no main protagonist but is told from many interconnected viewpoints. Sometimes this can make a story hard to follow. Not so in this case, as each character has it’s distinct voice.
As any reader of this review already have gathered I enjoyed this book immensely, and I recommend it to anyone who likes the same books that I do.
Note, though, that the text refers to the audiobook version.
Now, on to the sequel – “The Consuming Fire”…