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.

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

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

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Collapsing Empire (Book 1)
Review of The Last Emperox (Book 2)

24 Comments on “Audiobook Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi”

  1. Sorry to hear this was disappointing, especially as it was the conclusion to the trilogy. I enjoyed Old Man’s War but must admit that I never felt the urge to read another Scalzi… Might need to remedy this at some point! 😉

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  2. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this last book, most people found the conclusion rushed and a bit disappointing. I was intrigued by the premise of this series but, it doesn’t sound like it’s Scalzi best trilogy so I will probably pass on this one.

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  3. While I enjoyed this final book in the trilogy more than you did, I can see where your problems with story and characterization come from, and they are indeed valid – in my experience, however, Scalzi is not the kind of author who delves too deeply into emotional issues, not so much because he’s unable to but rather (and this is my personal opinion), because for some reason he’s unwilling to do so. Reading his blog I’ve come to understand he’s very passionate about the issues he writes about but this almost never translates into his fiction writing, and I wonder why…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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    • Haha, no he definitely is not a characterization person! Though I loved his character in Old Man’s War. Nothing he’s written since has quite matched it though, with maybe the exception of Lock In. And part of it, I think, is that he is absolute trash at writing women! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of his, but his female characters don’t come across realistic at all, and I think that’s part of why this trilogy suffered, with all the major characters being women.

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  4. Great review, Mogsy! That ending totally floored me! However, I did enjoy this trilogy more than you, most of the time, because I mostly liked the irreverent tone. It’s a pleasant change in epic sci fi, where everything tends to be very gritted and serious. Though you’re right in that he generally doesn’t want to explore the more emotional depths of his characters – I’ll forgive him that in return for really cool and creative storylines… I would love another book in the Lock In series!

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    • Yeah, the ending was pretty insane! I just wish he hadn’t rushed through it :\ It was almost like he wanted it over and done with as soon as possible. I have to wonder if he was up against a deadline or something, because the glossing over just felt so out of character for him. As for the emotional depth of characters, like I told Maddalena above, I really do think it comes down to his weakness in writing women. Everything I’ve read by him starring a female protagonist has not been as great, including this trilogy. Even in Lock In, where he deliberately kept the protagonist gender neutral so that the character could be either sex, it was always a man’s voice for me because women simply don’t think and talk lthe way he wrote the character 😛

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      • Yes – I know that ending certainly caught me off-guard. I wondered if he wanted to go for it, as it’s generally working against one of the general conventions, but also felt a bit bad or uncertain about it. And that’s why he rushed it… And you’re right – his female characters aren’t as convincing as his male protagonists.

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  5. I’ve only read the first book, which was pretty good but didn’t compel me to keep going, especially with so many other books I wanted to read. But hey, you can put a check in that box that you finished the series!

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    • He’s not my favorite, because he can be pretty terrible at doing voices (as in not varying them at all). To be fair though, he was really good in this one, maybe he’s finally putting in effort 😀

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  6. I know what you mean by mulling things over, I get that way sometimes too with books or movies. At first you feel exhilarated and swept away but then that buzz wears off and your critical thinking comes out lol.

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    • Exactly! The ending to this one was crazy too, so maybe that also blinded me to all its faults initially. After a day of mulling it over though, and the moments of “wait a second, that doesn’t make any sense!” the excitement started to fade :\

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  7. Hhmmm… It’s unfortunate this one wasn’t as good as it could have been. I’ve enjoyed Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series so far, but haven’t tried this one yet. I do already have the first two books so I will likely try them at some point, but I don’t know that I’ll put them at the top of my list. I hear you about the audiobook comment. It can be difficult for someone of one sex to voice another. Some narrators are better at that than others, but I tend to prefer when the main characters and the narrator are the same sex.

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    • I LOVE his Old Man’s War, one of my favorite books of all time! I think coming from that, this one will disappoint you though. Somehow it just lacks that adventurous, fun aspect :\ And I hear ya about the narrator issue. I know Wil Wheaton always narrates Scalzi, but they should have considered the gender of the main characters.

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  8. Mmm, I enjoyed the first one but kind of sat on the fence about picking up the rest and I’m not sure that this review has really pushed me into the land of desperately wanting to read. Maybe not I’m thinking.
    Lynn 😀

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    • Yeah, I almost didn’t finish this trilogy because I was just not feeling it after the second book. I’m still glad I read this, but I probably wouldn’t recommend this trilogy as wholeheartedly as his other stuff.

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  9. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 06/13/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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