The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi [7/10]

John Scalzi has nearly twenty science-fiction novels to his name, and won the 2013 Hugo Prize, but I’d never sampled him until his latest, “The Consuming Fire,” second in a series that will be at least a trilogy. I have to say it’s one of the oddest novels I’ve ever read. It is staged as a space opera in which the Interdependency, a stellar human empire, faces catastrophe when The Flow, a mysterious extra-dimensional pathway linking planets, begins to collapse. Can the Interdependency’s leader save the day amidst Machiavellian politics? Writing down the plot that way makes the book sound like an Asimovian series of battles. Instead, what Scalzi dishes up is intricate intrigue revealed through barbed dialogue, loads and loads of dialogue. Rather than a space opera, it’s an opera of wits and treachery. Scalzi is an adept stylist and every page sparkles with movement and wit, and when the action moves onto actual spaceships, the effect is electric. The array of characters is fascinating and all are splendidly portrayed. If in the final analysis this is less Asimov and more Dorothy Dunnett, who can complain about that?

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