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.