The End of All Things by John Scalzi (SF novella collection, 2015).
This entertaining book of space-going high adventure and political/diplomatic maneuverings combines four novellas (previously published as separate e-books) into a most satisfying whole. It’s part of the highly successful future history series that began more than a decade ago with the novel Old Man’s War. I must state upfront that, while hearing of this series, I had yet to read any of the previous books–so you can be assured from my experience that this volume doesn’t require a knowledge of what came before to find this accessible and quite enjoyable.
Interstellar travel via ‘skip ship technology’ (think: wormholes or folds in space/time) is a commonplace in this universe and there are countless aliens out there, pretty much all of them hostile (or at least highly suspicious) of humans–and given past events alluded to here, they have some reason to mistrust us. The most important grouping is the Conclave, an often contentious alliance of several hundred species.
Meanwhile, humanity is itself bitterly divided. Earth remains the single largest population center and resents the Colonial Union. The Union itself is on increasingly shaky ground with many member worlds itching to declare independence from an often overbearing central government that’s fully able and fully ready to use its Colonial Defense Force against any threat–foreign or domestic.
Without spoiling things for future readers, there is a secret group of utterly ruthless renegades (both alien and human) that are plotting to spark dissension and eventually full-scale warfare between the various parties.
The four novellas here are all first-person narratives, though each has a different viewpoint character caught up in aspects of the broader story. Many characters (human and alien alike) appear in two or more of the novellas, each of which stands alone as complete stories even as they but build quite effectively to a final showdown. If things go wrong, the end result will be–among other things–an end to any hope of eventual peace in the galaxy.
Scalzi’s writing is crisp. He smoothly and believably incorporates many familiar yet up-to-date science fictional ideas and technologies, alongside some quite vivid characters (including a number of very interesting nonhuman species).
Perhaps of particular interest to fellow writers (and those curious as to how a given idea can evolve over time), he also presents as a sort of end-of-book bonus, a very different version of the first novella’s opening that he scrapped. This ‘failed’ first attempt, written in third person, is itself an interesting read, though Scalzi was unsatisfied with it and started over, with compelling results.
A fine, rousing book of intelligent SF adventure. Highly recommended–and check out earlier books in this universe (as I intend to).