‘The Collapsing Empire’ by John Scalzi

‘Poor Man’s Culture Novel’

Score: 3/5

John Scalzi

This is not a Culture novel.

It feels like it’s trying to be a Culture novel - it has a large space-faring civilisation (the Interdependency rather than the Culture), it has space ships with quaint names (‘Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby’ and ‘No, Sir, I Don’t Mean Maybe’ versus ‘Just Read The Instructions’, ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ and the excellently-named warship ‘What Are The Civilian Applications’), it has an expansive tale with politics, sex and intrigue... But it just feels like a poor attempt at a Culture novel.

Culture novels created a setting that really felt futuristic - medicine had been ‘perfected’ to the point where people (usually) didn’t die until they decided, artificial intelligence was far ahead of human intelligence, gender was fluid, warfare was ‘interesting’.

The Interdependency creates a setting that feels more like the 16th century. Journeys take months (and news travels at this same speed) and hereditary royalty are in charge.

But what really annoys me is that there seem to be fewer video cameras around millenia in the future than there are right now in 2018, people still use tablets as personal devices, and all the incidental data gathering that happens these days seems to have been deleted in the intervening centuries.

It all makes it feel like the person writing about the future hasn’t really thought about what the future will be like. Sure, tablets are great. But in a setting far in the future, that can generate 3D holograms of people with uploaded personalities created using brain-scanning implants, do you really think we’ll still be using tablets? We’ve had tablets for 10 years (20 if you include Windows tablets) but does anyone really believe they’ll have a 100 year lifespan, never mind 1000 years?

Or there’s this quote from page 229:

“[W]ho was deeply impressed with Ghreni, whose family could trace its noble origins back to before the founding of the Interdependency”

Really? If you’re born now, your name and parental details go into a computer. Tracing heredity is trivial these days and that doesn’t look like it’s going to get harder any time soon. In a thousand years time, the last one thousand years of everyone’s lineage will just be a database query away.

And if you’re thinking ‘Yes, but he’s talking about noble origins,’ let me point you at the article ‘You’re Descended from Royalty and So Is Everybody Else’ or if that’s too long, this shorter version.

Overall it feels like a limited, unimaginative view of the future. Which would be fine, of course, if we hadn’t already been spoiled by better.

But maybe the idea is just to make the setting as familiar as possible, changing a few things to set it in the future in order to shine a light on some aspects of the current world. Maybe. But Iain Banks didn’t try to do that - he created a rich, deep, engaging universe that you could really believe was a credible future. And I miss Iain Banks.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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