"The Consuming Fire"

The second book of John Scalzi’s Interdependency Series, “The Consuming Fire,” is another breezy space opera that feels plucked from today’s news.

At the end of “The Collapsing Empire,” his earlier book, the Flow shoals were shutting down. The Interdependency, a sprawling space empire connected by the mysterious Flow tunnels, faced an extinction event. Meanwhile, powerful merchant houses were using their inside knowledge of Flow science to fuel their ambitions and bank accounts rather than govern for the good of the Interdependency.

Against the backdrop of this collapsing empire, Scalzi’s characters get to work. Cardenia is the newly anointed Emperox of the Interdependency, though she was never educated to be the Emperox. Because of this, the various guilds and houses of trade believe Cardenia is weak and they try to manipulate her.

She proves to be a formidable opponent. Cardenia throws the whole system into turmoil when she announces that she, like the founding Prophet Rachela, is having “visions.” It’s great fun to watch the various bishops and head of houses argue over her visions and scheme against her. Cardenia is my favorite character, but Scalzi’s other characters also have plenty to do.

Marce, whose Father developed the science of Flow and predicted the collapse back on the planet of End, tries to convince various political entities of the impending disaster. He finds it tough going. Powerful people have reasons to disbelieve the science or use it for their own gain. When Marce befriends another scientist named Roynold he unlocks some more secrets about the Flow that send him and Roynold on their own voyage of scientific discovery.

I had many questions about the role of the Church in “The Collapsing Empire.” Happily, Scalzi fleshes out the answers to these questions in the sequel. He investigates the history and role of the Church in creating and maintaining Empire. In particular, he uses Cardenia’s role as Head of the Church to explore religious dynamics when the religion is intertwined with powers of State (or in this case, powers of Interdependency). It isn’t always pretty, but it is always interesting.

Scalzi is always fun to read. His character work is light and entertaining. Sex and swearing take center stage, especially when he follows the adventures of Kiva Lagos. Scalzi hides the complexity of his plot and ideas behind a sometimes folksy writing style. He always goes for a laugh, even when the stakes are confoundingly high.

I was under the impression that this was a two-book series. But by the end of this novel, it’s clear that book three is coming. This is happy news.