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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Mailvox: a review of The Consuming Fire

A very successful SF writer sends his review of John Scalzi's The Consuming Fire, the second in his The Interdependency series, in case anyone happens to be curious about it.

Review: The true tragedy of The Consuming Fire is this: if this book, and The Collapsing Empire, had been written as one volume, it would have solved many of the problems besetting the first volume and made the combined volume far more satisfactory.  As it is, although The Consuming Fire is vastly superior to its predecessor, it lacks the satisfaction one may glean from a well-written Peter Hamilton, Brandon Sanderson or Iain M. Banks.  It’s also far too expensive for what one gets out of it.

The Interdependency - a network of star systems held together by the Flow, a series of hyper-dimensional rivers running through the higher dimensions - has finally discovered, thanks to the efforts of Cardenia Wu-Patrick, Marce Claremont and Kiva Lagos, that the Flow is collapsing and the Interdependency, as they know it, is doomed.  With only one planet within the system capable of supporting life without massive support from off-world, and that in enemy hands, the stage is set for a brutal civil war ...

... Except it isn’t.  The book effectively separates into two halves.  One side covers Cardenia Wu-Patrick’s desperate attempts to convince the Interdependency that the Flow is indeed collapsing (something that should have been made easier by the complete collapse of one Flow stream) and facing a conspiracy that should have been able to overthrow her with ease, but shows such striking incompetence that their entire plan falls apart far too quickly.  The other side follows Marce as he (aided by the researcher who, accidentally, started the Bad Guys plotting) discovers that the Flow’s steady collapse may be opening up new streams, including to a system that was cut off hundreds of years ago.  (No, not long-lost Earth.)  They take a starship to the system, where they find a handful of survivors - and proof, perhaps, that the shift in the Flow may not be entirely natural.  The Interdependency’s sins - or those of its founders - may have come back to haunt it.  And then, with the discovery of a handful of new streams and the plotters defeated, the stage is set for a brutal civil war ...

(Didn’t I just say that?  Really?)

Unlike The Collapsing Empire, this volume does manage to get across both the scale of the disaster facing the Interdependency - with brief asides touching on the effects on the wider universe as the collapse picks up speed - and the problems facing people who attempt to convince the bureaucracy and established interests that the sky is falling, although one expects that this particular version of ‘the sky is falling’ hasn’t been heard that often within the Interdependency.  If Scalzi was hoping to draw a link between the collapsing Flow and climate change, he failed.  The cold fact is that the people who insist that the climate is changing - and that human intervention is forcing the change - have been screaming ‘the sky is falling’ for so long that everyone else has simply stopped listening.  Here, one would expect the novelty alone to ensure that the claims got a fair hearing, although Scalzi is probably right to suggest that not everyone would want to believe.

The Marce plot works better, I think, although much of it is predictable and fails badly when the two plots interact.  It allows the reader to see both the fate in store for the Interdependency and, also, to pick up a flicker of hope (although Scalzi teases us with hints, rather than direct answers).  It’s clever of Scalzi to have Marce interact with the ‘enemy’ physicist, although it says nothing about the competence of the Independency’s security forces that they didn’t pick her up long ago.  (Or the bad guys, in not having her quietly hidden away somewhere or simply eliminated.)  It’s amusing to see that the lack of peer review bit both sides hard.  The bad guys weren't the only ones to miss a few important details.  Kudos to Scalzi for making a point many would have missed.

However, the plot following Cardenia Wu-Patrick and Kiva Lagos is considerably weaker, owing to a combination of incompetence on both sides.  The bad guys appear certain to win - they pull off a spectacular prison break - until sheer chance, not remotely foreshadowed, blows their plans out of the water.  Scalzi does this very poorly, it must be noted.  The conspiracy is doomed because of the growing crisis, sure enough, but the interests of the competing parties are so different that the conspiracy is probably doomed anyway.  It requires the plotters to either give up most of their interests or start planning to stab their fellows in the back.  Arguably, this is what happens.  The bad guys run rampant until they are challenged, at which point they fold with astonishing speed.

The sexual politics are also quite irritating.  It’s amusing to have Cardenia Wu-Patrick worrying about inviting someone to bed when she can have him (or her) exiled or executed for saying no.  Scalzi neatly encapsulates the dilemma facing those who want to exonerate Bill Clinton for his conduct in office.  Kiva Lagos, who is the person who really needs those thoughts (as she’s as guilty as Slick Willy), doesn’t have them.  Cardenia Wu-Patrick acts, at times, like a lovelorn schoolgirl mooning over Marce (and worrying if he fancies the other physicist); Kiva Lagos is as sexually aggressive as ever, taking an important call while being serviced - that is the exact word used - by an enemy lawyer.  Thankfully, we see less of her in this story than the previous one - another moment when combining the two books would have been considerably more effective.  Truthfully, I wouldn’t object to having all the major power players in the book be women if they weren’t so strikingly incompetent. 

It cannot be denied, however, that Scalzi dropped the ball in a number of places.  There are no scenes set on End, leaving that plot thread dangling for the moment.  To be fair, End is immaterial to the overall plot until the Independency finds a way to get back in touch with the lost world, but it’s still irritating.  Scalzi also has some of his characters veering backwards and forwards with terrifying speed, missing obvious opportunities to push their agendas because of the demands of the plot.  And most of his characters are basically snarky.  It’s sometimes hard to tell them apart.

Scalzi also takes a number of shots at organised religion, making it clear - right from the start of this book - that the Interdependency’s religion is based on a lie.  This is no steady corruption of a number of prophets, or a man who worked miracles, but a lie that was used to bind the Interdependency together.  There are shades of the fake religions of Foundation here too.  The main characters have no qualms about cynically manipulating the beliefs of their people to achieve their goals.  If you happen to be religious, you may find this offensive; if you are not, you may let it slip by.  Scalzi tries to add a hint of ambiguity with a character who may - or may not - have had a religious experience, but it’s hard to take it seriously.  It’s a neat piece of background, but one that ultimately fails.  Which is a shame, because there are concepts here - in the hands of a different writer - that might have been worth exploring.  What do you do if your fake religion suddenly has to deal with a very real prophet?  Or someone that cannot be branded a fake without calling your entire religion into question?

Overall, if Scalzi had combined these two books into one, I would have given them a much higher rating.  A combined volume would have avoided the problems plaguing the separate books - and probably had better editing - and settled a handful of issues before moving on to the third volume.  As it is, both books are ultimately unsatisfactory.  Scalzi appears determined to wring as much money as he can from the series, despite the limitations of the plot, but neither of his volumes have the sheer meat of Game of Thrones and its early successors.  It took me less than an hour to read it.  There are some improvements, yet the glacial plot movement and sheer incompetence of the plotters and counter-plotters is a major downer.  So too is the crudity of some of the characters.  In short, the book is too expensive for what it gives us.

Rating: Two out of five.

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37 Comments:

Blogger Mister Karolus November 01, 2018 7:20 PM  

I find it incredibly satisfying that after reading the Collapsing Empire and the Consuming Fire, the Corroding Empire, a book written to poke McRapey in the eye is a considerably better story with much better writing.

Blogger Salt November 01, 2018 7:32 PM  

Ouch!

Blogger LP999-16 November 01, 2018 7:46 PM  

Ick, well his fans will like it. I'm sure...creeped out.

Blogger My Dead Gramps November 01, 2018 7:49 PM  

I stopped at 'Zoe's tale' in the Old Man's War series when it was clear Scalzi couldn't write an interesting woman, or that he had no idea how normal female/male interactions go. Yet when I looked on his twitter his fanclub are praising his Kiva character and she's his personal favourite.

Blogger weka November 01, 2018 8:10 PM  

Thank you. One to avoid

Blogger de Ruyter November 01, 2018 8:22 PM  

"It took me less than an hour to read it."
At 320 pages I highly doubt it. At best you skimmed it.

I don't care about this writer, but lets be real.

Blogger Dave November 01, 2018 8:27 PM  

Might the review be more interesting than the book? It does reinforce my resolve to never read a book by Scalzi.

Also, on the Avalanche Parentheses to Prose Ratio, I give the reviewer a 4.2/10

Blogger Warunicorn November 01, 2018 8:31 PM  

"If Scalzi was hoping to draw a link between the collapsing Flow and climate change, he failed. The cold fact is that the people who insist that the climate is changing - and that human intervention is forcing the change - have been screaming ‘the sky is falling’ for so long that everyone else has simply stopped listening. Here, one would expect the novelty alone to ensure that the claims got a fair hearing, although Scalzi is probably right to suggest that not everyone would want to believe."

Is he really going with that angle? lol

See, I know the world is eventually going to end and there's absolutely nothing we can do to stop it. It saddens me because there are many beautiful things on this Earth, sure, but how does that Robert Frost poem go? "Nothing gold can stay."

It takes an infinite amount of arrogance and delusion to claim we can stop it.

The solution? Come to Jesus, NPCs, because you arrogant, self-righteous motherf*ckers surely need Him.

Blogger Nathan Bruno November 01, 2018 8:59 PM  

Without a cold open on a female captain abusing her rank and authority to rape her subordinate by ostensibly pegging him while the second mate watched, I don't think this book is going to rise to the same lofty heights of literature as the first.

Blogger Jack Ward November 01, 2018 8:59 PM  

Scalzi? Never read anything by him. Mainly due to the negatives about him from this blog.
Now. On vote day the 6th. Mr. T. Kratman is due out with his latest in the 'Peace' series. There is no doubt I will buy it and enjoy it. I don't think Tom Kratman can write a bad book. Just as Mr.Scalzi cannot write a good one.

Blogger Looking Glass November 01, 2018 9:03 PM  

One upside of Vox's Twitter ban is, from the outside, he seems more productive.

One downside is the lack of regularly clowning Scalzi. Granted, Vox's destruction of the Hugo's is so complete that I'm not sure there's much left in the space to even be worth mocking.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash November 01, 2018 9:22 PM  

At 320 pages I highly doubt it. At best you skimmed it.

Everyone is not like you. I can read 320 pages of light fiction in an hour and a half. I'm sure many people can read it on an hour.

Blogger Doug Cranmer November 01, 2018 9:22 PM  

Q's back.

Blogger Daniel November 01, 2018 9:34 PM  

320 pages of Scalzi is equal to 178 pages of normal. His central motiff is "Breezy small talk."

Blogger Avalanche November 01, 2018 9:38 PM  

@7 "Also, on the Avalanche Parentheses to Prose Ratio"

I've got my own RATIO!?!? I'm absolutely delighted! (And here I thought I had improved. Oh well...)(wink)

Blogger Jack Amok November 01, 2018 9:42 PM  

At 320 pages I highly doubt it. At best you skimmed it.

A couple of otherwise supportive reviews on Amazon complained it was thin for the price.

Blogger Jack Ward November 01, 2018 9:55 PM  

@13 Yeah, there is a Q posting today. Wording seemed careful to avoid any Hatch act unpleasantness, as I see it. Good to hear from him/them. Now, for the 6th. I almost early voted a few days ago but contained my urges. More the merrier on Tue. I say. VOTE people; lets give the dems some more heart burn!

Blogger InformationMerchant November 01, 2018 10:13 PM  

Speaking of reviews of bad SJW products. The Quiet Man is currently getting chewed up all over the place. Apparently we need more deaf representation, so a video game was released with the sound ripped out.

Someone made the video game version of the Avalon #2 silent version, they did this on purpose.

Blogger Servant November 01, 2018 11:38 PM  

I feel like I am a fairly fast reader without being tryhard fast and reliably come in at a page a minute. That's the butlerian jihad most recently.

It does make me happy to know that competition breeds excellence. Or at least effort. Still makes me mad that he suckered me in with old man's war. You keep pushing him he might create something readable again.

Blogger Feather Blade November 02, 2018 12:39 AM  

InformationMerchant wrote:so a video game was released with the sound ripped out.

One would think that they could just add an audio level display to the screen somewhere, let the deaf enjoy the music in visual form.

Alternately, this game is discriminatory for completely excluding the blind.

Blogger Dirk Manly November 02, 2018 1:02 AM  

What a hack " Cardenia Wu-Patrick, Marce Claremont and Kiva Lagos"

Trying to be other-cultural, McRapey can't even invent a non-English surname.

What a loser.

Blogger Amos Bellomy November 02, 2018 1:49 AM  

320 pages in slightly less than an hour is very doable for a fast reader. That isn't particularly remarkable.

Blogger Dirk Manly November 02, 2018 2:03 AM  

@1

"I find it incredibly satisfying that after reading the Collapsing Empire and the Consuming Fire, the Corroding Empire, a book written to poke McRapey in the eye is a considerably better story with much better writing."

Airplane! is a far better story than the base plot of the film Zero Hour on which it was based. by removing/re-writing less than 5% of Airplane! you have a remake of Zero Hour.

Parodies are often far better than the original work. Deficient creativity tends to be the root of the motivation to create parodies.

MAD Magazine started out Tales to Drive you MAD, a parody of horror comic books. The key to most of the parody was making fun of cliche tropes, and non-sensical basis for a story. This developed into general parodies before even 10 issues -- they then started parodying ALL comics. Black Hawks! Popeye, Gasoline Alley (all of the characters grow older and older, EXCEPT THE INFANT!). They also started taking classic poetry [The Raven, Casey at the Bat, etc.] keeping the original text word for word, but making increasingly ridiculous illustrations to go along with the text. Similar to the Bugs Bunny episode in which Bugs is helping his nephew review for a test on the American War for Independence. As Bugs is narrating, the accompanying animation illustrating his words are full of comical errors -- e.g. talking about the siege of Yorktown, "The British fleet was bottled up in the harbor." The accompanying imagery is a bunch of men of war, each on in a giant bottle, like a ship-in-a-bottle model, with a cork on each bottle. I won't give away the ending.

The root of ALL Comedy is mistakes in/by the actual-life subject, or the perceptions thereof (look at the attempts at humorous portrayals of Trump -- they all are based on the assumption that Trump is screwing up. Of course, these would only be screwups if Trump were a typical leftist politician who cares more about the image he projects to the leftist masses, than on actually achieving results -- which, in Trump's case, actually DO improve the lives of the left's most desperate constituencies. Hopefully Trumps crowning achievement will be the restoration of Mental Health Asylums. Since the left won't admit, but KNOWS that their most visible leaders are bat-shit crazy, and most of those bat-shit crazy leaders ALSO know that they are bat-shit crazy, if it happens, the entire show will be highly entertaining to all of the rest of us.... AND get the most radical feminists, and we-have-to-have-a-pride-parade-so-we-can-publicly-insult-the-public-by-sodomizing-each-other-in-the-middle-of-the-downtown-retail-shopping-district gays LOCKED AWAY FOR LIFE, as they have proven themselves, even if NOT a danger to themselves, each and every one is a demonstrable menace to society.... even their (as the gbltomgwtfbbq's like to call them) "allies."

Blogger S. Thermite November 02, 2018 2:27 AM  

Looking forward to the day Scazi gets eaten by his own. Given a long enough timeline every on the Left transgresses against the evolving Narrative. If he truly had talent then he might be dismissed as an imperfect genius. But it’s sounds like only a matter of time before he outlives his SJW utility and is denounced as an exploitive cis white male thought criminal by the very people he desperately relies upon to pay his bills and validate his own sanity, worth, and identity. Reviews such as this one only give him a taste of his future doom.

Blogger Troushers November 02, 2018 3:33 AM  

They confuse sexual aggression with confidence and competency.

Yet more natives building bamboo control towers...

Blogger Sam November 02, 2018 4:03 AM  

InformationMerchant wrote:Speaking of reviews of bad SJW products. The Quiet Man is currently getting chewed up all over the place. Apparently we need more deaf representation, so a video game was released with the sound ripped out.

Someone made the video game version of the Avalon #2 silent version, they did this on purpose.


That is a terrible way to do it. Perception is a horror game where you play as a blind person, but it isn't lazy- you can 'see' sound and use assists (take pictures on phone and call) to navigate.

This just sounds like a way to burn money to propitiate the gods of virtue signaling.

Blogger Shimshon November 02, 2018 5:50 AM  

I didn't even know Scalzi released a new book. Why the lack of PR compared to the last launch?

Blogger VD November 02, 2018 8:36 AM  

Why the lack of PR compared to the last launch?

Tor knows the sales won't justify the expense. They've given up on the pretense that he's a bestselling author.

Blogger Gregory the Great November 02, 2018 8:37 AM  

sounds like a very boring and discouraging novel to read

Blogger English Tom November 02, 2018 10:32 AM  

@Feather Blade

Blindism. The new frontier!

Blogger Resident Moron™ November 02, 2018 11:20 AM  

The bad guys run rampant until they are challenged, at which point they fold with astonishing speed.

SJWs. Always. Project.

Blogger Mister Karolus November 02, 2018 12:03 PM  

@23

The Corroding Empire is better than McRapey's offerings as a serious science fiction. This is not because it is parody, the parody factors little into the story. Instead the Corroding Empire explores a more interesting premise (what happens to a society built on false assumptions vs what happens to a society when communication begins to break down) with better written characters, and a more coherent story.

The problem with McRapey's writing is that he spends so much time and effort trying to shoehorn his personal bugbears into the story (climate change, sexism, religions, etc) that he fails to write a compelling story with consistent characters.

Blogger Sagramore November 02, 2018 2:31 PM  

Literally Wu-Patrick?

Blogger Mister Karolus November 02, 2018 4:02 PM  

@VD

What would it take to get more hard sci-fi by Johan Kalsi?

Blogger Unknown November 02, 2018 6:33 PM  

"Tor knows the sales won't justify the expense. They've given up on the pretense that he's a bestselling author."

They did send him out on another book tour, but perhaps this was in his contract?

And "The All-Consuming Flatulence" did make 15 on the NYT's Best-Sellers list, though I'm sure Tor bought that.

"Foundation's Flow" and "The All-Consuming Flatulence" would have never made it out of the slush pile without Scalzi's name on the title. You can only get away with that for a short while before people realize they're being conned.

Blogger Dirk Manly November 03, 2018 12:19 AM  

@15

"@7 "Also, on the Avalanche Parentheses to Prose Ratio"

I've got my own RATIO!?!? I'm absolutely delighted! (And here I thought I had improved. Oh well...)(wink)"

You could have written ALL of those EXACT SAME WORDS without any parenthesis, and it would come acress just the same. Here, look:

"Also, on the Avalanche Parentheses to Prose Ratio"

I've got my own RATIO!?!? I'm absolutely delighted! And here I thought I had improved. Oh well... wink"

See how much clearer that reads?

Parentheses are for tangential explanations, not carrying the main message.

Stop putting parts of your main message in parentheses. It makes you look like a confused idiot.

Well, then again, you are a woman who was born and raised in New England...

Blogger Dirk Manly November 03, 2018 12:38 AM  

@19

"It does make me happy to know that competition breeds excellence. Or at least effort. Still makes me mad that he suckered me in with old man's war. You keep pushing him he might create something readable again. "

What would be even better is if Scalzi gave up because the con won't work any more, and went into honest work for a living.

I'm not saying that writing is dishonest work.

I'm saying that SCALZI's writing isn't honest work. It's plagiarism all the way down.

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