The Last Emperox: The finale to a compulsively readable SF series

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Emperox by John Scalzi science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Last Emperox by John Scalzi

A few thousand years in the future, one branch of humanity, comprised of billions of people, lives on a set of planets called the Interdependency. Their star systems are many hundreds of light years apart but tied together by the Flow, a sort of hyperspace river that connects these planets. The problem is that the Flow is gradually collapsing, one stream at a time, and all of the Interdependency worlds except one (called End) are completely incapable of sustaining human life without the constant importing of food and goods from other worlds — hence the term “Interdependency.” In fact, this economic system was deliberately set up a thousand years earlier in order to enrich just a few elite families, each of which have a monopoly on certain key goods and have become immensely wealthy and powerful as a result.

As The Last Emperox (2020), the concluding novel in John Scalzi’s INTERDEPENDENCY trilogy, begins, the nobles in the Interdependency are finally beginning to accept the fact that all of the Flow streams that tie their worlds together are disappearing. (It’s hard to deny given the mathematical proofs … especially after several streams have collapsed as the physicists predicted.) The Interdependency’s ruler, Emperox Grayland II, called Cardenia by those who know her personally, has been pushing for the government and ruling families to acknowledge the flow collapse and start working together to try to save the people of the Interdependency.

It sounds logical enough, but instead the ruling families are mostly preoccupied with two things: First, saving themselves and their families and hangers-on, by preparing to emigrate to the world of End. After all, End can’t possibly assimilate all of humanity, and the wealthy and powerful are determined that they’ll be the ones to actually wind up there, along with as much of their wealth and power as can possibly make the transfer to End with them. The common people that they ruled on their worlds are out of luck, too bad.

The Interdependency (3 book series) Kindle EditionSecond, they’re (still) trying to oust Cardenia from power. She’s already survived two assassination attempts, and Nadashe Nohamapetan is determined that a third attempt will succeed. Nadashe is a fugitive but an extremely well-connected and ruthless one, who’s been a constant thorn in Cardenia’s side since Cardenia declined a political marriage with either Nadashe’s brother or Nadashe herself.

The Last Emperox follows the ongoing struggle between Nadashe and the allies she gathers around her, and Cardenia and her supporters, particularly her lover and leading Flow physicist Marce, and her friend Kiva Lagos, a foul-mouthed schemer with enough of a conscience to realize that, with civilization as she knows it quickly coming to an end, some amount of altruism needs to be injected into to a set of rulers used to acting solely in their own self-interest. Kiva is one of the bright lights in the INTERDEPENDENCY series, as long as you don’t mind her over-the-top case of potty mouth.

The basic plotline and the main characters are already familiar to those who’ve read the first two books, The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire (in fact, it’s vital to read those books first, but this trilogy is definitely worth the investment in time). These characters — well, at least the sympathetic ones — are well-rounded and complex. Cardenia has learned to act as a ruler needs to, but sometimes that’s at odds with her role as a normal person and her developing relationship with Marce. Cardenia and Marce have just the right amount of nerdiness, awkwardness and sincerity that you really root for their relationship. Nadashe, on the other hand, is a little over the top as a one-dimensional villain, although Scalzi still manages to have some fun with her conniving character.

There’s a shocking development toward the end of The Last Emperox. To say much about it would get us into spoiler territory, but I wondered (through my tears) whether this event and the decisions that led to it were as necessary as the book posits. I wasn’t convinced, although a subsequent reread of this book did lead me to conclude that it was, if not essential, at least justifiable. (I’m still pouting about it on a personal level, though.)

The Last Emperox is almost prescient in its critical take on a society in crisis, where people act in short-sighted ways, denying and delaying taking action against a looming problem until it hits crisis point, and too many of those in charge are selfishly focused on their own interests rather than on their responsibilities to those they govern. Scalzi has a serious message to share, but it goes down easily, with a fast pace, lots of action, and frequent doses of snarky humor. This is one of the most compulsively readable, intelligent and enjoyable science fiction series I’ve come across, and it gets my highest recommendation.

Published in April 2020. The Last Emperox is the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling Interdependency series, an epic space opera adventure from Hugo Award-winning author John Scalzi. The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction . . . and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people form impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization . . . or the last emperox to wear the crown?

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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6 comments

  1. I thought the plot choice was essential, both to the story (and well foreshadowed in THE CONSUMING FIRE, when we met a certain other character) and from that character’s motivation. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t heart-breaking and sad. I didn’t like it but I believed it.

    I laughed out loud when Senia imitated Kiva’s way of speaking!

    • I’m still not wholly convinced. Here’s my thought:

      ***MAJOR SPOILERS!***

      Deaths had been faked at least two or three times earlier in the series. I think Cardenia could have still uploaded her consciousness to the Emperor’s Room (making the digital copy of herself to help keep an eye on things going forward) but then her original physical self could have secretly taken off with Marce and disappeared from their society for all intents and purposes.

      • ***MAJOR SPOILERS*******

        I think that could have worked.

        I think it wouldn’t have demonstrated her degree of commitment to doing what she thought was the right thing. (Theoretically there would always be a chance of discovery.)

        I also think Scalzi is playing with the idea of “modes of humanity.” I could make an argument that she is not really “dead,” just ascended.

  2. without reading the actual comments, seeing you two have a debate with “major spoilers” at the top makes me a whole lotta interested in starting this series, especially now that it’s done

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