Review: The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi

Posted: December 12, 2018 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi. Tor, 2018, 316 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

The Consuming Fire is the second book in Scalzi’s Interdependency series, following 2017’s The Collapsing Empire. Both books seem purely commercial, lowest-common-denominator fantasy that’s set in space to give them a sci-fi gloss. There’s nothing new in either book. There’s a standard medieval political/social set-up, and the sci-fi elements are all well worn: computer simulations of the dead; “the flow,” a path between stars that somehow allows faster than light travel; and . . . well, there isn’t much else.

Worse, this second book in the series is dull. There’s nothing of political, social, scientific, or technological interest in it, and it revolves entirely around personal conflicts and political maneuvering among the nobility. (Those entertained by such things would do well to stick with Game of Thrones.) One of the reasons that this maneuvering is so uninteresting is that the characters are unconvincing: the good guys are unrelievedly pure of heart, and the villains are unrelievedly evil. In other words, they’re cardboard characters, and it’s difficult for a reader to care about such characters.

One might also mention that Scalzi appears to have had historical and political amnesia when he wrote Consuming Fire, because the “emperox,” the primary character, appears entirely uncorrupted by being the most powerful person alive. In Scalzi’s Interdependency universe, power doesn’t corrupt and absolute power doesn’t corrupt at all.

Even worse, the story is largely built upon exposition rather than narrative (telling rather than showing), the amount of dialogue is ungodly, often page after page of it — Chapter 5, for instance, is eleven pages long, and eight of those pages are devoted to dialogue — and the purpose of the dialogue is primarily expository. One odd aspect is that Scalzi throws in quite a bit of swearing into the dialogue. The end result is that Consuming Fire reads like a YA novel the author has attempted to spice up with gratuitous cursing.

As well, due to the moderately distant third-person narration, there’s essentially no interior monologue — Scalzi tells you what his characters are thinking and feeling rather than allowing his characters to do it themselves — as well, there’s not much in the way of action sequences, and the comparatively few descriptive passages are nothing out of the ordinary.

Given Scalzi’s previous achievements, especially the vivid “Old Man’s War” military sci-fi series and his fine comic sci-fi novels, Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation, and Redshirts, The Consuming Fire is shockingly bad.

Very much not recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a Spanish-English translation on Venezuelan anarchist history, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

 

Comments
  1. Peter Jones says:

    Thanks for the warning! I did read the first book, but hardly recall anything about it!
    I’ve got the new Peter Hamilton waiting for, I’ll stay with that a while.

    Like

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