Saturday 2 December 2023

THE LAST EMPEROX: Book Review

WHAT: The Last Emperox
WRITTEN BY: John Scalzi


2020 was a place for some arts to die, but it was also a place where other arts got to fly. Books were one of the winners of that difficult time. According to The Authors Guild fiction books sales increased by 18%. One book published in the midst of lockdowns and a world turned inside out was the final instalment of the Interdependency trilogy, called The Last Emperox, written by John Scalzi. I must admit, I started reading this when it was released. I feel it is quite telling that I have only just finished this book, so many years later. 

The Interdependency trilogy actually began as a two-book space opera. As it was written it became apparent a third instalment was necessary and, whilst I haven't read the first two, I feel like the whole story actually lies in the second half of this third book.

The trouble with writing what have become known as space operas is that the authors think they can reveal things slowly and in a convoluted manner. This is why I have only just finished this book. In my opinion absolutely nothing happens until the second half. There is no inciting incident of any significance to draw the reader in. On the other hand, in these pages the first 2 books are pretty much explained - or the cliff notes at least - so I don't feel any need to read them and the world is not intriguing enough for me to want to go back and explore the history.

The concept has good potential. The Interdependency is a diaspora of humanity which has managed to fling themselves deep into the universe through wormhole style 'flows'. They now have the technology to build habitats so it doesn't matter that the planets are incompatible for human life. These communities also don't need to be near each other because they are connected by these flow streams.  

The problem is, in the first two books they have discovered these streams are collapsing and the last Emperox, Grayland II, has to figure out how to get as many people through what will be the last remaining stream to the only planet which can sustain human life. An added complication is that one of her enemies has rebelled and taken control of the other end of that stream and any spaceship not permitted through will be destroyed upon arrival. 

The conceit is a lot of fun, and once The Last Emperox stops messing around with all the cloak and dagger stuff, the story really takes off. The structure of the book is in 3 'books' which is part of why I don't think you need to bother with the first two. The characters are mostly fascinating although I think making the key players female is a bit disingenuous and leaves them feeling a bit two dimensional. I don't care what people may say, a woman is not just a man with mammary glands.  

Having said that, the character of Kiva Lagos is great fun. Grayland seems a bit lacking in personality. Nadashe Nohamapetan is a wonderful villian. Perhaps it is worth reading book two, The Consuming Fire, because that is where the rivalry between Lagos and Nohamapetan seems to have been fully realised.

The technology in The Last Emperox is a mix of good ideas and WTF. Scalzi has long had a fascination with life extension and transference of personality to other places as the body dies, kind of like Altered Carbon. The Interdependency trilogy plays with this and there is a big reveal in The Last Emperox which mirrors some of what has been developed in the Foundation TV series. On the disappointing side is the little things, like how they still use tablets and watch shows with the tablets resting on their knees. I would have thought that by that point in our technological development we might have come up with something a bit less cumbersome.

I know this sounds like I didn't enjoy the book. I really did - or at least the second half. The problem is that in 2020 I didn't have the patience to wade through all the soap opera before finally getting to the action. In the end, what is good about science fiction is the technology, the ideas in the world building, and the action. Just like any film script, a book needs to start at a point of action. The past and the relationships get revealed through that moment of impact and the ramifications which come from that.

Despite my reservations I do think science fiction addicts will enjoy this world. This trilogy is possibly a winning Xmas present idea, especially if you have a teen who is a really scifi addict.

3.5 Stars


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