Audiobook Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 3 of The Interdependency
Publisher: Audible Studios (April 14, 2020)
Length:8 hrs and 7 mins
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
The Last Emperox is the final installment of John Scalzi’s The Interdependency trilogy, and boy is there a lot to unpack here. But first, picking up where the last book left off, as predicted by scientific models, the collapse of the Flow is now imminent. Entire systems are about to be cut off and snuffed out, putting billions of lives in danger. And yet, politicians are gonna politick and profiteers are gonna profiteer, and no one has been affected by this than Emperox Grayland II, who has already faced opposition from her detractors and foiled an attempt on her life.
But unfortunately, what we’ve seen is only the beginning, and with the Nohamapetans out there still scheming, it’s not a matter of if another assassination attempt will come, but a matter of when. Still, Grayland knows she must see to the plight of her people, whose hopes now lie at End, the only planet with the conditions and renewable resources capable of sustaining human life. That said, transporting the innumerable masses of the Interdependency to this far-flung, modestly sized world is not a realistic solution either, and with all the great houses jostling to secure their own chances of survival, the situation is rife for corruption and treachery.
So in a way, my feelings for this book reminded me of how I felt the first time after watching The Last Jedi. I walked out of that theater thinking the film was awesome—it was exciting, funny, full of action and surprises. But it was also a feeling that didn’t last very long. Given enough time to mull things over, especially on the drive home in slow traffic, I started to see a lot of things that didn’t quite make sense. The plotting was seriously flawed. A few characters were given the short end of the stick. Questionable decisions upon questionable decisions. Point is, entertaining as the movie was, a lot of it fails to stand up to close scrutiny once you get a chance to really think about it, and I think I had much the same reaction to The Last Emperox. After sleeping on it, I decided there were a few things that prevented me from giving this one a higher rating.
Since I’m big on characters, I’ll start with them first. I’ve been a fan of John Scalzi for a long time, mainly because he writes such fun, light and fluffy books. While he’s upped his story game in recent years, sadly his character game has remained stagnant, and even gone down in some cases. In this book, for example, when it comes to powerful human emotions like love and grief, Scalzi either glosses over them or completely avoids addressing them all together. How many times after a major turning point event do we simply get some lengthy exposition or impersonal news report-like passages that merely spit out what the characters are doing and thinking? It’s frustrating as hell and only served to widen my disconnect with the characters.
The premise also fell a bit flat, probably because the delivery itself felt so half-hearted. The characters in the book spend an inordinate amount of time espousing the value of computer models and data, but as recent events have shown, models are useless if your methods are flawed, and how do you come up with good methods when there is a total lack of fundamental understanding? For the protagonists of this series though, all the issues are pretty cut and dry, which dulls the gravity of the situation and the excitement of the story somewhat. Again, Scalzi glosses over the problem, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that when the solution came, it was likewise treated with less care than it deserved. Now, I didn’t hate the ending, but the more I thought about it, the more holes I was able to poke in it, and thus the more dissatisfied I became. I’m not going to give away the spoilery details here, but can you say deus ex machina?
Still, I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t enjoy The Last Emperox, because I did—albeit on a very surface-level kind of way. It was also better than the last book, but nowhere near as good as some of my favorites by the author. Even the humor, which is usually his forte, felt a bit forced, and I see that the old trick of relying on Kiva Lagos’ profanity-laced dialogue for a few cheap laughs is still in play. Scalzi seemed to have rushed through this one without giving much thought to developing the characters or story, and as a reader and longtime fan who knows he’s capable of so much better, I’m slightly disappointed. These doubts aside though, The Interdependency trilogy served up some decent entertainment overall, and while maybe The Last Emperox wasn’t the best concluding volume I could hope for, it still offered a solid finale.
Audiobook Comments: It’s been a while since I’ve listened to a book narrated by Wil Wheaton, and wow, what a difference from his older stuff! He actually attempts accents now! And varies the tone and timbre of his voices! That said though, while I’m aware Scalzi’s books and Wheaton’s narration often go hand in hand, with all the major characters—the best characters—being women, I still think this series would have been a better audio experience with a female narrator. But overall, a good listen.