Fiction Reviews

The Last Emperox

(2020) John Scalzi, Tor, 8.99, pbk, 318pp, ISBN 978-1-509-83535-5


Scalzi's The Last Emperox brought home to me one of the things I hate most about fiction reading: it's noticing the dwindling number of pages as you approach the end while not wanting the story to stop!  I had to put the book down 30 pages from the last, pause for a few days and then go back for a fifty page run-up to the conclusion.

This is a huge, wide-screen space opera romp of political intrigue. It is the final instalment of a trilogy that every bit lives up to its two preceding books: The Collapsing Empire (2017) and The Consuming Fire (2018).  Go back to the reviews of those to get the set-up: I am not going to give you any spoilers here other than to say that this offering rounds things off neatly.

We get more of the same, which means some very dry wit and a some delightfully sweary protagonists (perhaps not for those with fainthearted sensibilities), amid familial and political shenanigans all while the day of stellar isolation draws near so ending the interdependency of star systems and the doom of billions.

Unlike the previous two offerings, we have had to wait an extra year for this last in the trilogy. That was bad news for us but, for those new to the 'Interdependency' trilogy, you have the immense pleasure of reading these in quick succession. And well you might, for these three books are literally one seamless story.  And well you might also because The Collapsing Empire won the 2018 Locus award for best SF novel and as well as being short-listed for a Hugo. (While The Consuming Fire was long-listed for the 2019 Hugo.)

In a three-page acknowledgements afterword, Scalzi informs us that the reason for the publication's delay was his being distracted by the political events of 2018-9 which in the US saw the fallout from the previous presidential election. Here Scalzi invites his US readers to register to vote for the 2020 elections. (Though his readers might want to consider why the previous election went the way it did or for his European readers the Brexit vote here in Blighty due to a forgotten section of the population being left behind by both liberal progressives and purely free-market advocates.) If we do, in return Scalzi hopes to reward us with him probably giving us more books.

Scalzi also informs us that this trilogy would not be part of a broader series having been conceived as a single story.  This is a shame, for while it is a complete story, such is the set-up that we know that much went on before the time of the Emperoxs with a larger empire that included Earth. We also know that on some worlds there were artificial intelligences and electronically-stored human engrams so that the previous interstellar community underwent a technological bifurcation. This in turn raises the question of why?  In short, there is ample scope for a second prequel trilogy that could provide a neat trilogy diptych with this one.  Let's hope enough drop the hint to Scalzi and that he takes it.

Jonathan Cowie


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