Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Corroding Empire (NAME SUBJECT TO CHANGE) by Johan Kalsi (AUTHOR SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

(INSERT COVER PICTURE WHEN FINALIZED)

This book has drama attached, and it's pretty funny, latest rundown on it here. It's a parody of a book that was actually published the day before its subject, thrown together in a hurry more to show off the mobility of Castalia House's Kindle-first strategy than to poke fun at any aspect of Scalzi's new series. It's not a parody of The Collapsing Empire, it's a parody of Tor, who gave millions of dollars to an author to get, over a year behind schedule, a parody of a much older book.

In that respect it's great, just great. It's a sign of a healthy market, feuding companies playing pranks. It lets you know there's a human in charge. The issue, though, for someone wanting to spend their time in a book is is it good?

The answer is sort-of. "Johan Kalsi" seems to be Castalia's authors, uncredited, mostly writing on the theme of a collapsing space-empire over five hundred years. The first part, roughly a quarter of the book, was brilliant. We see a vast civilization dependent on math for organization and management, not a difficult SF concept to extrapolate, and it's being nibbled to death by a million little contingencies. Our viewpoint is a higher-up on one planet in the galactic empire who sees the signs but pridefully avoids trying to handle them until he's goaded into it by an altruistic Bicentennial Man.

This part is in elegant Asimov style, dialogue-driven, with a sense of rarefied scientific importance. Technocrat Jaggis and Servo play off each other well, side characters are suitably cyphers, and it's bursting with a sense of impending doom. The Corroding Empire's (name subject to change) take on psychohistory is that a society of that size needs something akin to it just to keep running. I was looking forward to seeing the Foundation set up, crises averted not through prediction but through intuitive, virile, clutch solutions, and the style of Asimov continued with this affectionate, playful hand (someone bonks their head on a slow-opening door iris).

Not to be. This fascinating setup leads into a series of disjointed shorts about the future of the empire. It never comes together. We seem to be expected to know things about the empire's technology and geography that aren't shown or discussed, not even in the Infogalactic articles preceding every chapter, another in-joke that only touches on its infodump purpose. The style shifts wildly, which might have been exhilarating if I'd had any idea where I was or what was going on, and the only connection they have to the first part are things falling apart and the presence of a robot named Servo, who doesn't fill the R. Daneel Olivaw role as his personality is drastically changed in every appearance. Of course that's explainable in-story, but then maybe we could have had some other character provide a semblance of continuity.

I was hoping the author of the first section would return to wrap everything up, but it ends with more chaos. Not superversive at all.

It's a neat experiment. In the future indie publishers will certainly be able to use this format as a show of force. I wouldn't mind finding out who wrote which chapters so I could look up their other works. I really wouldn't mind a map.

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