The Last Emperox
Rating: 2 out of 5
I initially rated the book at three stars, but dropped it down to two as I sat with my reactions over night.
The summary of my review is: I wish John has finished his part in time to give the editor time to save John from some pretty big mistakes. This is conjecture on my part (that more time would have saved the book) but the “turning it in at the last possible second” certainly didn’t help.
The good things: Scalzi still has good dialogue. It’s a quick read, at no point did I feel like it bogged down (I mean hell, I finished the whole book in less than 24 hours).
The bad: oof. Almost everything else? Multiple times we would sit inside a character’s head for multiple pages while they either 1) recapped the plot of previous books or 2) monologued like Saturday afternoon z-movie villians. And no, lampshading that they were doing just that didn’t “fix” it. Twice he pulled the “reader thinks character is dead but they’re actually not dead! Haha!” trick (and again, the fact that the second character is “technically” dead doesn’t change the fact that their consciousness lives on, kinda bespoiling the whole “dead” thing). Once, ok. Twice? Lack of imagination.
Speaking of, I kinda feel like wrote himself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get himself back out. “The flows are collapsing and nothing will stop them from doing so! Billions of people will die!” Ok, then what? “Uh… side-character thinks really hard and fixes it, in what turns out to be almost the c-plot of the book?”
And finally, the literal deus ex machina that is Greyland II somehow… pushing Rachela aside in the giant not-dying machine but also Rachela is still in there? So now there’s two “people” in the one machine, with no explanation as to how something that definitely only worked for one person before (Rachela made a point of it!) now fits two. And she gets to live on “forever”, oh and also (despite, again, establishing that going into the brain/ghost machines doesn’t actually give you more or better understanding of FTL physics) she is able to discover a flow back to Earth-space, that Marce can go off and explore with his buddy Chenevert, like two puppies going to play on a farm upstate.
Leaving it at two stars because I did enjoy parts of it, and it wasn’t the worst book. But I really, really think that if he had turned this in four months before the very last possible second, his editor could have pointed out this fairly large, glaring problems and sorted things out. He’s not The World’s Greatest Monster, but dang. A real missed opportunity.
P.S. Since I know Scalzi has his haters, I present my bonafides as someone who owns and has enjoyed literally everything else Scalzi has written, fiction-wise, all the way back to Agent to the Stars, reads and enjoys Whatever (and has for ~15 years), and follows and enjoys him on Twitter.