Fiction Reviews

The Consuming Fire

(2018) John Scalzi, Tor, £8.99, pbk, 316pp, ISBN 978-1-509-83516-4


It is the far future and humanity has spread to the stars. It was a venture made possible due to hyperspace canals or routes called 'the flow'. However, in the long-term these routes, it becomes apparent, are subject to change: the flow, after centuries of stability, can alter. Indeed, this has happened in the past which is why the connectivity of a group of star systems in which humanity has made a home, is now under threat. Its interstellar empire – called the Interdependency – is ruled by the Emperox and familial 'houses' with each house often specialising in an aspect of commerce.

So when Emperox Grayland II starts to have visions of the flow's collapse, with star systems becoming forever cut off, the leaders of the various houses start to worry: is the Emperox mad or, if not, will the interstellar economy be ruined?  This last is not a trivial concern for only one of the star systems sports a habitable planet; humans in the others live in giant colony space stations and other habitats. Ultimately, the whole Interdependency relies on being connected to this habitable planet.

And so a political power-struggle commences. There is rebellion in the air…

This is the second in Scalzi's Interdependency series and it follows The Collapsing Empire that was nominated to the Hugo Award shortlist in 2018.

Though this is decidedly a space opera, it is primarily about internecine, political shenanigans.  Normally such books don't do much for me, but this is sufficiently inventive, rooted in the SF interstellar set-up and buoyed by Scalzi's snappy, intelligent dialogue, that I was simply absorbed and carried along.

Now, in theory you could jump into the story here. However, references to previous events make it virtually clear that this is a follow-up novel and part of a bigger story. So, newcomers really need to start with The Collapsing Empire. Old-comers, who have read that previous novel and enjoyed it but have yet to dive into The Consuming Fire, can be assured that they will not be disappointed: The Consuming Fire delivers on plot development and further revelations as to the Interdependency set up. It's all good stuff, wonderfully inventive and reminiscent of Stross in space opera mode. What's not to like?

Niggles, hardly any. But I had to laugh at the scene in which astronauts coming across a very old, deserted space station that, though having cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero, has a gaseous atmosphere. Sorry John, I simply had to share with Thog. Such happens to the best of SF writers and Scalzi has some fine novels under his belt.

As for this Interdependency series, I can't wait for the next one.

Jonathan Cowie


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