BOOK CLUB: The Last Emperox

(Book 3 of the Interdependency series)

Author: John Scalzi
ISBN: 978-1509835355
Copy courtesy of Pan MacMillan

“The Last Emperox” is the third in the Interdependency series, and that’s its major weakness. This is not a novel that stands particularly well by itself – although the story is easy enough to follow, I found very little emotional engagement for a reader coming to it without having read the earlier installments.

Scalzi made his name as a writer of military fiction, with a heavy debt to writers such as Robert Heinlein. Here he has moved away from military fiction – this is more focused on politics – but his early influences are still evident. It’s partly about the tone he adopts, and the detailed explanations, but is also about the astonishingly accomplished female characters who are multi-skilled, multi-talented, sexually open, and seemingly impossible to repress.

The Interdependency is a sprawling human empire that encompasses many star systems. The empire has specifically been developed so that the star systems are interdependent – none can survive without the others. Each has resources that the others lack. This deliberately fostered interdependency is based on the use of Flow streams, which enable space ships to travel between systems in weeks or months rather than decades or centuries.

But now the Flow streams are beginning to collapse. And the experts are saying that there’s no way to stop it, or to establish new streams. Soon these interdependent systems will be alone. Emperox Grayland II is faced with the most basic, terrifying task of all: saving humanity.

Which you might think would be everyone else’s priority too, but no. The jockeying, politicking, and outright dirty tricks (see assassination) as individuals try to wrest the throne from Grayland are incessant. And not all the noble houses are interested in saving their people: some just want to save themselves.

There’s a lot of exposition in this novel – a surprising amount, actually, as you’d think a fair bit would have been gotten out of the way in the first two novels. I found this something of a weakness for the novel. The action is entertaining and interesting, but there’s not a lot of it, and sometimes the novel felt like a series of lectures rather than a story.

When the action kicks in, though, this is really enjoyable. The characters are vivid, there’s some smart arse humor, and things move fast. It’s a shame the balance of the novel doesn’t lean towards more of this.

I hadn’t read the previous two novels, and as a new reader I found the amount of exposition also made it hard to engage with the characters. For much of the novel I felt I was observing what they were doing, as the narrator expounded, without being emotionally immersed in it.

The major characters are all female. The only exception, really, is Grayland’s lover. While there are certainly other males in the novel, none really felt like major characters. The women are universally intelligent, have sex with multiple partners without a second thought, and are very very good at a surprising array of things. While it’s a pleasure to see women depicted so positively, and taking centre stage, I did feel that many were rather one dimensional. Their weaknesses are minor and easily surmountable, and none seem to suffer much in the way of self doubt. It made it a little hard to relate to them.

This is a thoughtful novel, and one that is better planned than some of Scalzi’s earlier novels. It’s got a clear plot line and a clear end goal, and the novel has a sense that it’s building towards a climax for both this novel and the series. There’s some serious thought given to how people behave in a crisis, both selfishly and selflessly, and the costs of those behaviours.

The plot was easy to pick up, despite being the third in a trilogy. Certainly, I felt at times that I was missing some nuances or details, but it wasn’t difficult to understand what was happening and why. This is probably in part due to the amount of exposition; I had a sense that some things were being repeated.

“The Last Emperox” is a novel that will be really appreciated by a certain audience, and will probably repel a good many people not in that audience. If you don’t like science fiction, extensive exposition, or obscenities, this is really truly not the novel for you. This is a decent science fiction novel, which will please many of Scalzi’s fans, and indeed many science fiction readers who are yet to discover Scalzi. But I would recommend starting with volume one.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading “The Last Emperox” by John Scalzi. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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