Taking a break from his Old Man’s War universe, John Scalzi starts a new trilogy with The Collapsing Empire. In this universe, faster-than-light travel does not exist. So just how does a star-spanning empire exist? The Flow, an extradimensional region of space that allows travel to various worlds in days, weeks, or months. Only the Flow changes over time. In fact, Earth is a lost world because access to the Flow disappeared. But the result is The Interdependency.
But a scientist has discovered that the Flow is about to disappear completely, stranding humans on the various worlds of the Interdependency. Only one such world is an open planet with a breathable atmosphere. It’s called End, and it’s the farthest system from the Interdependency’s capital.
At the center of the action is Cardenia, the illegitimate daughter of the Emperox. However, since her half brother died in an accident that only the rich and the noble seem to be able to die in, she is to become Emperox as her father expires. She takes the name, at the insistence of her late father, of Greyland II, after another female Emperox who reigned the last time a world was cut off by a change in the Flow. In the meantime, Marce Claremont, the son of a Count on end, struggles to get back to the capital to tell the Emperox the truth about what is to happen to the Flow. He and the Emperox are frustrated by a noble house with designs on the shifting Flow. His salvation comes in the form of the crude, slutty Lady Kiva Lagos, whose primary occupations are squeezing as much money out of a mark as possible and getting laid frequently. She gets very cranky when she’s denied money or sex, but excels at swearing. Lagos turns out to be a better woman than she thinks, though much of this comes through saving her own neck.
I listened to this on audio. Wil Wheaton narrated, and Wheaton is excellent at doing the voices, especially some of the more aristocratic ones. In some cases, he is unrecognizable when reading dialog. But he does a great job conveying Scalzi’s snarky tone.