The Last Emperox
by John Scalzi
I’ve been a Scalzi fan since 2006. I buy most of his novels in hardback. This time I bought it e-book but that’s just because I had to wait too long for the physical copy. I suspect it was import problems related to the pandemic. The Interdependency is my least favorite of his works. This could very well be a problem with me. Apparently it has sold quite well. Good for him. I’m glad it’s done well.
With most science fiction novels there is a conceit, the thing that makes the story science fictional. In Old Man’s War it was transferring consciousness into young bio-engineered bodies. In Lock On, it is a virus that paralyzes people so that they need robot bodies to interact in the world. Pretty fantastical, but I can suspend my disbelief.
In the Interdependency, the conceit is The Flow, like a set of worm holes that connect the systems in which people live. Actually, I can totally get behind that one, too. What I couldn’t get beyond was how society grew up around The Flow. Many billions of people populate multiple systems. The only thing is, there’s only one system that can sustain life naturally, called End. But nobody goes there until the flow is about to die, leaving the people in their unstable systems. Those systems are made even more unsustainable by the fact that noble houses own monopolies for everything they need to survive.
Long story short, the Emperox, Cardenia, needs to save humanity from the end of the Flow, which will leave all human habitats cut off from each other and the resources they need to survive, only to discover that the evil noble houses who hold monopolies on all those resources are plotting against her. She must defeat them, and with her fiance, Marce, she must find a technological solution to the end of the Flow, and save humanity.
First off I question whether people would even colonize in the system that doesn’t have a habitable planet and takes years to reach in the flow (see my post on book two), but the monopolies in the solution to them just seemed so obvious that I was Annoyed while reading.
From the book:
all the Lagos fruit stock was genetically encoded to stop producing after a certain number of generations… If the franchisee doesn’t pay up, their stock becomes useless. If you think you’re going to just easily reverse engineer the stock, well, you can try, and good luck… the House of Lagos has been genetically designing and tweaking its stock for literally centuries, with a specific eye on maintaining its monopoly. Re-engineering so much as a lemon from scratch would likely take decades.
So, as Emperox, stop all patents. Everyone is going to be cut off from each other for eternity, so you don’t lose anything. Problem solved (with lots of mayhem in the mix, of course, but still, solved). Also, doesn’t someone have a library of genetics that has inferior lemons? Let them eat the crappy lemons if it keeps them alive, no? And if Jiyi/Rachela was really able to gather any and all information (sorry, this needs explanation, Jiyi/Rachela was a computer construct, a copy of the first Emperox, and also a super-intelligence and super spy), and had access to pre-Rupture data, then she’d have the data to give everyone free genetic materials for lemons. Everyone makes their own lemonade.
And it took 300 pages to reach the self same solution. Only worse.
I felt that the novel was more like an outline for a novel, or maybe an incomplete one. Chapters 1 & 2 were lots of “previously on The Interdependency,” which Chapters 9 and 14 felt like exposition for to explain how the rest of the worlds were thinking and feeling, because, well there are tens of billions of people out there. The exposition was punctuated by snappy dialogue, which is this author’s strength. That said, the snappy dialogue felt self-indulgent rather than character developing. Also, those sections are sparse in terms of description, whether that be place or character.
The technology solution to the problem is introduced. Marce, Cardenia’s secret fiance, has learned that he can’t make the Flow stay. They can’t get enough people on ships to End. Even if they could, End can’t sustain that many people. OK, so then why was End so important in the earlier books? So that the nobles could have someplace to escape to while leaving the serfs and peasants in their dying habitats, that’s why. However, Jiyi/Rachela, it turns out, has all the science behind the Flow, so Marce discovers he can move the Evanescence to the habitats (the Evanescence is the little brother of the Flow). So that becomes his goal. Problem is, even if he moves the habitats, they’ll still die in End (not the end, but End, the planet. So I guess, in the end as well). This is kind of a dead end in the story, and was not satisfying. We are left with him contemplating the great work that he must do, without any story to tie it up.
Finally, the demise of the Emperox was disappointing. Not because she finally found love, though that is there. But mostly because I neither agreed that it was the only way to win, nor did I get enough of the character’s transition to believe she’d essentially commit suicide. At the end of the book, the nobles assemble to coronate the new Emperox (the bad guy, of course). Several hints are thrown at the reader earlier in the book to suggest that Cardenia is going to open the airlocks to the cathedral and space all of them. If Cardenia had done that, spaced them all, then she could have seized all the monopolies, and saved humanity while eliminating her enemies. Sure, that sounds very Game-of-Thrones-y, and that might be why the author rejected it. But I just didn’t see enough evidence that 1) there was no other way, and 2) she would accept that fate willingly.
Anyway, I will continue to buy Mr. Scalzi’s books. And mostly in hardcover. But I’ll store this series a little lower down on the bookshelf.