The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire. The Flow is eternal — but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals — a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency — are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

The Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby was a fiver, a ship whose size and design meant that theoretically it could support a full complement of crew from its own resources for roughly five standard years before everything began to go bad,

“Nine months ago your sister ship, No, Sir, I Don’t Mean Maybe, arrived with a shipment of grapefruit graft stock that carried a new strain of virus. It spread through your licensed orchards and devastated your client’s crops.”

The committee sat, senior-most closest to the emperox’s chair at the head of the table, with the exception of Archbishop Korbijn, who sat opposite of Cardenia. Cardenia noted the dress of each—the church bishops in fine red robes lined in purple, the guild representatives in their formal black and gold, the parliamentarians in somber blue business suits. Her own Very Serious Uniform was imperial green, dark with emerald piping. We look like a box of crayons, Cardenia thought. “You’re smiling, Your Majesty,” Archbishop Korbijn said, as she sat. “We were remembering our father, who often spoke of meeting with this committee.”

And when we designed the church, we intentionally made the divine aspect of it as ambiguous as possible. People don’t mind having the mystical aspect of a church being poorly defined as long as you make the rules of the church clear.

Bomb Ubdal was to plant on Yes, Sir exploded on our ship, causing operational damage. Could not move to intercept and destroy. Captain Wimson unhappy Ubdal’s bomb came onto our ship. Sent Ubdal out the airlock in his medical gurney.

It was one thing to know intellectually that Hub, which included the namesake planet of Hub, its immense imperial station, the equally immense autonomous habitat of Xi’an, and dozens of other associated habitats, was the most populated and advanced human nation in the Interdependency. It was another thing for Marce to disembark from the Yes, Sir at Hub’s imperial station, several times the size of End’s station, and to take in the bustle and rush of so many humans arriving and departing and doing their business—and knowing that the planet below held even more people in even more crowded habitats, pressed together in underground domes or technologically advanced kilometers-long spinning cylinders, living their lives oblivious to, or simply unconcerned about, how close they were to the hard vacuum or cold rock or searing radiation that could kill them in minutes.

the human species was threatened with extinction, not in an abstract way or over a long period of time, but in a concrete fashion in the span of less than a decade. In less than ten years every human system would be isolated, alone and forced to survive solely on what resources existed in-system, and with what craft existed to exploit those resources. Habitats could theoretically last decades or even centuries before they failed, but there was the human element as well. Humans didn’t react well to the knowledge they were cut off and doomed to slow death by habitat failure. Cardenia recalled what they knew of the fall of Dalasýsla. The humans malfunctioned long before their habitat did.

“The Interdependency was built on a lie, you know,” she said, to Attavio VI. “Yes, I know. If not a lie, then perhaps on the least malignant projection of its original intent.”

“The Interdependency began with a lie.”“Yes.” Cardenia smiled. “I think it needs to end with another one,” she said.

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