Regular Boing Boing readers need no introduction to John Scalzi, whose smartass, snappy, funny, action-packed science fiction novels are a treat to read; but new fans and old hands alike will find much to love in The Collapsing Empire, the first volume in a new, epic space-opera series.

The Interdependency is a cynical empire based on a quirk of physics. Thousands of years ago, the human race discovered The Flow, a mesh of hyperspatial "currents" that allow spaceships to transit hundreds of lightyears in a matter of days. The Flow is a poorly understood phenomenon, but Flow links have been largely stable for a millennium, which is where the Interdependency comes in

A thousand years ago, the political elites of Hub — the world where the most Flow channels enter and terminate — established a religio-political empire based on the assignment of industrial monopolies to mercantilist families, divided among known space so that no planet could be independent and thus all human civilization would depend on the trade that transited through Hub.

From the Interdependency's perspective, The Flow is far too big to fail, but uncaring physics doesn't care. The Flow is failing, slowly and in ways that can be plausibly (and disastrously) denied. The early warning signs set off an assassination in the line of Imperial succession, moving an inexperienced and untrained second-child into the Emperox's seat as her father gasps his last breath.

She inherits a universe that is about to spin apart, though she doesn't know it. On the most-distant world of End, the on-again/off-again revolutionary war is back on, and this time, it has something to do with one of the great houses and its designs for a post-Flow universe.

The resulting shenanigans — ranging from false-front guerrillas, space-piracy, board-room coups, terrorist attacks, and trade wars — are played out beautifully as a kind of 11-dimensional chess game whose players are cynical, scheming elites and palace functionaries high and low.

It is classic Scalzi: a book that finds lots to like about cynical and contemptible people without letting them off the hook for their ruthlessness, that interweaves intense action with baroque plotting, and that plays out a story that literally crosses a galaxy.

John is just finishing his tour for Collapsing Empire, just as I'm starting my tour, and we're doing a series of appearances together, starting with tonight's event in Pasadena at Vroman's Books, where we'll be joined by Amber Benson, who has narrated audiobooks for both our novels (and rather brilliantly too!).

John and I will go on to appear in Bookshop Santa Cruz tomorrow, then San Francisco's Borderlands on Thursday, followed by two days at Penguicon near Detroit.

We did a two-header last weekend at the LA Times Festival of Books as a kind of warmup and it went spectacularly — if you can make one of these events, you should. It's gonna be fun.

The Collapsing Empire [John Scalzi/Tor Books]