Further Thoughts on The Collapsing Empire

I finished The Collapsing Empire two Thursdays ago, but then I had to travel first to New York and then to Minneapolis for conventions, so today was the first time that I had a chance to go through the finished manuscript with a fine-toothed comb in order to do fiddly things like standardize how names are used (and make sure names used in one part of the manuscript stayed consistent — a problem for me), fix a couple of minor plot holes, and basically buff it up so that when it’s sent off to the copy editor they don’t recoil in horror from it.

In the process of doing this, I also read the novel all the way through for the first time. Which may sound weird — didn’t I write the thing, after all? — but when you’re writing it, you’re writing bits at a time, and I don’t read what I’ve written previously in any sequential manner. I just go back to check on things that I need to remember, or have to change because I got a new idea somewhere along the line. So today was the first time I read through the whole, completed story.

So, some thoughts on the read-through and other things.

1. I’m relieved to say I think it’s good. I mean, I thought it was good before — I wouldn’t have told Patrick, my editor, that it was done if I hadn’t — but reading it through in one go confirms it’s pretty damn solid. It all works and parts of it are really freakin’ awesome. This is a mild relief; it’s nice when your initial impression of your completed work bears scrutiny ten days later.

2. I think it’s sufficiently different from what I’ve written before that it’s difficult to make a direct comparison, but if I had to, I’d say that it’s probably closest to The Android’s Dream. No, that doesn’t mean it opens up with a fart joke (there are no fart jokes in TCE. Sorry). But it has similar pacing and stakes as well as narrative tone. Also maybe The Ghost Brigades? Somewhere between the two of those books, perhaps. But what I really think it that it has its own sense of style and place. Which makes me happy.

3. At the same time, you know. It’s me, and the book sounds like it comes out of my brain. Which if you like that, great! And if you don’t, well, maybe give it as a gift to someone who does. When I started writing this one, waaaaaaaaay back in the first part of the year, I thought I might try for a different tone — something perhaps Herbertesque, to reflect the Dune-like scope I imagined this universe having, and about two chapters in I realized I had made a dreadful mistake and no one would want to read the Scalzified Herbert (or Herbertized Scalzi) that was gouting forth from my fingers. You will never see those stunted and horrifying chapters. What you will see works much, much, much better.

4. The misbegotten Herbertization is gone, but the scope of the novel is still pretty big, y’all. It’s got spaceships designed to last a decade without resupplying, massive space habitats, underground cities and civil wars. And — wait for it — pirates! Yes, pirates. You love pirates. You told me that once. I remember. Anyway, there’s a lot going on. You won’t be bored.

5. This is also the first novel I wrote knowing for certain that there would be at least a book two in the series; it’s specified in that big damn contract I signed with Tor. Old Man’s War was written as a stand-alone, for example — I didn’t know if they’d want a sequel. Likewise, Lock In (whose sequel is the next novel on my docket) was written without knowing whether Tor would want a followup. The Collapsing Empire, on the other hand, was explicitly part of a multi-book series deal.

This fact definitely had an effect on the writing, because while giving the book a full and complete arc in itself — I mean, come on, you have to do that — I also get to intentionally set up a lot of stuff that will pay off in later books. That was fun.

(What about The Human Division? I hear some of you ask. Well, here’s a secret — the arc of stories that played out in THD and in The End of All Things? When I originally plotted them out, they were all meant for one book. But then I started writing and realized how long that book would be, and also how close my deadline was — so two books it was. Which was fine, because they were two pretty good books! But even so.)

6. With that said, I plan to do here what I’ve done with the OMW series, which is to do my best to make sure any of the book in the series that starts with The Collapsing Empire is a full and satisfying read in itself. One of the things I’m happiest about the OMW series is that I have people tell me they’ve started with The End of All Things and worked backwards, and it worked for them, because I always gave them enough information so they weren’t lost. It’s intentional: you never know where someone will enter a universe you create, and you don’t want to give them an excuse to leave. I do it for the first book in a series, and every book thereafter.

7. Also, in case you’re wondering, the plan is to have the second book in the TCE series out two years after the first, so: 2019 (Head On, the Lock In sequel, is planned for 2018). It shouldn’t be a long wait.

8. I’ve noted before that for The Collapsing Empire, I created one of my favorite characters ever, Kiva Lagos, who is also one of my wife’s favorite characters of mine ever, superseded only by Jane Sagan (who, to be clear, is totally modeled on her, so, nepotism). Getting that Krissy Mark of Approval™ for Kiva makes me happy. The other two main characters (Marce Claremont and Cardenia Wu-Patrick) are pretty good too, and we have a trio of sibling antagonists who I think people are going to enjoy as well. Seriously, this is a fun book.

9. Now that the book is done, what’s next? Well, for the rest of year, I pretty much relax — I have to do a couple of short stories and some columns, and when the copyedit for TCE comes in I have to get to that quickly (on account I was a little behind on turning in the book — THANKS TRUMP AND CLINTON), but I’m mostly planning to catch up on sleep and play video games and vote (the last one only once, but only once will be enough). It’s nice to have the book out of my brain. This one was a little exhausting.

10. Exhausting, but worth it. I think you all are going to really like The Collapsing Empire. We’ll know soon enough: March 21st is not actually that far away.

49 Comments on “Further Thoughts on The Collapsing Empire”

  1. It’s fascinating that you compared it to Dune as I listened to the full cast version of it. I realized that very little of what should be a vast empire was actually sketched out — a handful of worlds, a past largely covered in the lexicon in the back. So Im look forward to reading your novel as I’m betting you do a much better job of creating a fully textured universe.

  2. Re #6 and “giving ppl enough info so that they don’t get lost.”

    One of my favorite authors writes a very long series of legal thrillers (I think he’s up to #25 or 26 now). He’s kept them in roughly chronological order, and with his subsequent books he’s spent a little time–no more than a page or two, tops–doing a brief background on the major characters and what led them to their place in the current book. I’ve seen some critics get snarky with the author “because we know who they are already, why do you waste so much time going over all the basics again?”

    One, if “you know who they are already,” just skip over that part, it won’t hurt you.

    Two, each novel can generally stand alone by itself, but since there are occasions where something that happened in a previous novel is referred to, if you’re coming into it mid-series, it’s nice to have the explanatory background. I was actually lucky enough to come into the series at #2, so I didn’t miss much background, and I was ultimately able to find the first book, so at this point I’m completely caught up.

    Again–if you don’t need it, don’t read it!

  3. Looking forward to it. From what you said here, this one seemed to take longer for you and need more wrangling. Was that because it was intentionally book 1 in a series and you knew it? Or just random stuff?


    But seriously, you had me sold from the moment I saw the concept here on your blog.

  5. Can’t wait to read it. It sounds like something I’ll love.

    But I confess I REALLY can’t wait for the Lock In sequel. I’ve read the entire Old Man’s War series and thoroughly enjoyed it, but of all your books, Lock In is my favorite.

    Best wishes to you!

  6. I, for one, would be very curious about the social darwinist Scalzi. For about two chapters’ worth. ;)

  7. Bits and pieces.
    My favourite character would be Savitri Guntupalli from The Last Colony. Or does she only qualify for best supporting character?
    A few decades ago there were a couple of authors I read and if a book was part of a series then most of the first quarter of the book was spent reminding you what had happened in the previous book(s). Very annoying.
    There was one series where I bought books one and three. Book three told me enough of what happened in book two that I’ve never felt the desire to acquire book two.
    Favourite Scalzi book: – probably Fuzzy Nation (also the first Scalzi I read).
    Least Favourite Scalzi Book? No, just joking; How could there be such a thing? (Looks around nervously for The Mallet).
    When is one of your publishers going to do a print of the shorter bits and pieces from the past in one book? Sagan Diaries is one of them.

  8. I’m curious about your world-building process. How long were you thinking about this new universe before you started writing? And how did you map it out, so to speak? That is, did you try to fill in as much detail as possible before the writing or did you discover it in the process?

  9. So, wait: you de-Herbertized the experimental First Chapters? Okay, fine. But you left in the Night Dragons, right? I mean, it wouldn’t be the same story without the Night Dragons.

  10. “The Android’s Dream” was always my favorite book of yours, and one of the top ten of all time from any author for making laugh out loud while reading. I was bummed when the sequel never came together, so I’m glad to hear that it’s the closest point of comparison for the new series.

  11. “intentionally set up a lot of stuff that will pay off in later books”
    Are we talking Bear, Bujold, or Brust level set up?
    That is:
    well you know everything and of course,
    you’re leaving things to play with later, or
    nope, there’s no way except it makes perfect sense.

  12. I dunno, central characters with stand-alone story lines works really well for me. Maybe just short attention span on my part but series that build on previous story lines tend to wear out after the 5-6 volume mark and even those I really loved in the early stages such as Stirling’s Emberverse and Flint’s Ring of Fire series couldn’t hold me after volume 10 or so. I have nothing at all bad to say about these authors but I so wish they’d do something fresh to supplement their bread and butter work.

    For what it’s worth, John, I’m all for your current approach and am very much looking forward to this story’s release.

  13. What, no fart jokes?! That’s it, cancel my pre-order!
    On a more serious note, one of the nice things about point #6 is that when looking in used book stores under Science Fiction/Fantasy, you often see many books from series of 3 or more books (SF an Fantasy are very series-driven genres), and only, say, books 2 and 5 are available. By writing each as a standalone (more or less) you make it easier for the used bookstore habitué to enter, as you say, your series. Not all authors do this.

  14. Congrats. That’s quite the schedule. Sorry we couldn’t connect at NerdCon – was hoping to woo you with our vintage typewriter that smelled like stories at our booth. Mostly because our indie studio would love to make story-based video games with you, if that ever comes across your radar.

    If you’re looking for a game to play, I’ve got a 2 hour cyberpunk mystery called Mandatory Upgrade at http://www.OneMoreStoryGames.com you might like. It reminds me of Lock In.

    All the best and keep writing. Cheers.

  15. Oooh, this sounds good. I am really looking forward to it.

    My favourite character from your books is Ambassador Ode Abumwe. Something about her really clicked with me and the way you wrote her made me imagine that you really enjoyed writing her. So I am really excited to read about Kiva Lagos.

  16. If you are nostalgic about video games, there is a cool site called game-oldies.com that has a bunch of classics from PS1 down to Atari. It is a flash driven site which is a bummer, but I find it to be a top notch emulator. If you are into survival games, but mine craft is a little too simple or Lego like for your tastes then check out Arc Survival. If you are looking for a fun button masher that does not take a ton of time or skill check out Brawlhalla by Blue Mammoth on Steam. Don’t let the name fool you, it is a solid game that has the feel of Smash Brothers without the complexity. I wouldn’t invest time and energy into No Man’s Sky, and I personally did not find Overwatch to be that fun. If you are looking for a good MOBA check out SMITE. Tons of fun, great characters, on every platform, and the company who makes it is amazing. If turn based games are your thing check out XCOM 2. I have only played a few missions, but so far I am really into changes they have made.
    If you want games with a great story check out any of following: The Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead Season 1 and 2, Borderlands 2 (Not a great story line but highly entertaining), and The Last of Us.

  17. “This fact [that it would be a multi-book project] definitely had an effect on the writing, because while giving the book a full and complete arc in itself — I mean, come on, you have to do that …”

    Unless you’re George R. R. Martin… On the other hand, I am thoroughly sick of his writing and having to wait years between installments for a story that appears to have no end – so perhaps he’s a good example of what not to do…

  18. Nice post I like it a lot. Love hearing about your writing process and stuff. Only bummer is, 2019! I typically wait until a claimed series is finished before starting them (No Game of Thrones for me yet). I do it because sometimes a series gets abandoned, or worse, finished quickly to get it out the way because the series in total is not doing well. Secondly, and the big reason, is that I will forget all the goodness I had read in the first book while I wait a year or two for the second book. All the excitement and tension that may have existed tends to drain away.
    Having said that, I may have to make an exception for this one!

  19. Agreeing with Dana, the best news of this post is that there will be a Lock In sequel in 2018! My fav too! (I’m thinking, once you catch your breath, you could start in on that… I don’t think anyone would object if you got it done early :^)

  20. Pirates? Do you have ninjas, too?

    Sorry, but it had to be said.

    Congrats on finishing, I will await the books arrival with some other books and a sense of antici…pation.

  21. Congrats on finishing and being pleased with it. Count me as someone else who’s looking forward with excitement to the Lock In sequel. I read the ebook when it came out and recently listened to Wil Wheaton’s version of the audio. I love revisiting books in audio format and in this case, I paid attention to how craftily you *didn’t* indicate gender in any way.

  22. Ghost Brigades is one helluva strong story. And well told too. . . My favorite in the entire OMW series. . . so much so I’ve read it twice.

  23. Re: #6
    As a reader who had read all of the OMW series, I always appreciate the background reminders. So many things happen in between when I get to read two books and my memory’s not what it once was. I love having the explanation to jolt my memory!

  24. Sounds awesome!

    I am even more excited about the Lock In sequel. It was my favourite (so far) of your books.

    I love that Krissy was the model for Jane, which just cements my sense that Krissy is hella cool. Her mark of approval for Kiva is making me even more excited for the new book. (Also: Your love and respect for Krissy shines from your writing here, which is truly lovely to see.)

  25. Really looking forward to reading this book; I hope that I will actually be able to do so in the way that I want (i.e. via my Kindle) AND in a timely fashion. But that probably isn’t going to happen.

    Whilst I realize that the issue I’m about to have a minor rant over isn’t actually directly caused by our esteemed host; I’m still going to gently rant about it. My hope is that if enough authors raise these sort of issues via the publishers, then maybe things will change…

    What’s my issue? I don’t live in the USA – I live in New Zealand (which I understand is becoming an increasing popular destination for people thinking of a post-Trump exodus; but that’s entirely another story…). It seems that its becoming increasingly harder to actually purchase content for the Kindle at the same time it’s released in the USA if you don’t live there.

    In the case of “The Collapsing Empire”, I can’t pre-order, as the US webstore doesn’t even want to admit the kindle version of the book exists, as it “knows” that I’m not in the US. The main site (amazon.com) tells me I should really be buying my content from “amazon.com.au”; unfortunately, the publisher in Australia seems uninterested in actually selling books (which is an odd choice for a publisher and can’t be good for the author). At any rate, “amazon.com.au” won’t admit the book exists yet. And probably won’t for a good couple of years. (For example, Amazon.com.au lists “1 Aug 2015” as the publishing date for “The Human Division”, a book I was actually allowed to buy from Amazon.com in May 2013. This was before things got “tightened up”).

    I believe NZ (as part of the Commonwealth) rights are covered by publishers in the UK – almost all books physically sold in stores here are UK editions. Sadly, however, the Amazon.co.uk website doesn’t seem to know this either, and also refuses to sell me books – whilst the site does show me the kindle version, as soon as I try to buy (or in this case, pre-order), I’m told “the Kindle Store on Amazon.co.uk is for UK customers only”. So, nada.

    It seems that this is a problem entirely created by lawyers, and is only harmful to the content producer and content consumer. I don’t understand how anyone sees this sort of situation as “a good thing”, but clearly someone did, as it is a relatively recent problem (as in “created in the last 2 to 3 years”).

    Dear Mr Scalzi: I would love to give you money to enjoy your book. Unfortunately, it seems to me that those empowered on your behalf to sell your work don’t want my money, and therefore it seems you’re unlikely to get it from me. I’d gladly pay for my own copy. I’ll probably wind up reading the book via the library – at the cost of a lost sale to you, and unjustly delayed gratification to me. This does seem to be a “lose/lose” situation. Perhaps you could be good enough to gently suggest to your publishers that this isn’t good enough? Thanks!

  26. I just finished listening to “The Dispatcher”. Dare I hope that there will be more books/novellas in that series? Loved it!!

  27. I’m really forward to it! I also just finished listening to The Dispatcher and really loved that one! I hope that’s the beginning of a new universe too. I kept thinking of the implications of such a society. There’s so much that could be done there. Do you happen to know if TCE will have an audiobook version published at the same time?

  28. What they said about being excited. It was on pre-order soonest you announced the book. As to favorites, characters that it, one stands clear of the crowd of incredibly memorable personages, and that is Hafte Sorvalh. She absolutely ROCKS….. Hands down the one I would want to meet first. And as an aside, more Hafte please, and you can keep the puppies.

  29. Marce “Claremont”, eh? A little shout-out to the hip, sleepy little village chock full of colleges and charm in which you once resided?

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