Fancasting John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire

The foul mouthed, bisexual, graymoral heir to a business empire. The socially awkward scientist and backwater planet gentry traveling to the center of the system to deliver devastating news to the emperox. The trio of power hungry siblings positioning themselves to take over the known universe. The unlikely and reluctant heir to the empire, raised in comfort as the last emperox’s acknowledged daughter, raised to a position of power by her half-brother’s untimely demise. These are the astonishing main characters of John Scalzi’s latest novel, The Collapsing Empire.

I’m a longtime Scalzi fan. He writes funny, cinematic SFF, and over the course of his career he’s made a concerted effort to diversify the casts of his work. The Collapsing Empire — the first in a new series and part of his ten-year, multi-million dollar deal with Tor Publishing — feels like a strong step forward in those efforts. I raced through this book in twenty-four hours — even though I was listening to the audio, brilliantly narrated by Wil Wheaton — and immediately began assembling my dream cast for the potential adaptation. Considering Scalzi’s already sold the rights, we may be seeing this one onscreen sooner rather than later.


Our Trio of Protagonists

Lady Kiva Lagos: Janelle Monáe

Unless something goes terribly awry in the next book, Kiva is my favorite Scalzi character. Ever. The best way to describe her is Slytherin. She’s the heir to a vast trade guild, putting in her last long haul to a backwater planet before ascending to her mother’s right hand. Kiva is cunning and has a code of ethics, but they may not look exactly like your normal protagonist’s morals. Kiva is also canonically bisexual, and is written as an unabashedly sexual person. The text never shames her choices or the way she sometimes wields her sexuality as just another weapon in her arsenal. She is brilliant and funny and takes no shit. Janelle would be a great fit, and not just because I’d love to see her casually flinging expletives at people who piss her off.

Lord Marce Claremont: Dev Patel

Oh, Marce, my precious, naive darling. The son of the Count of End, a backwater planet of scientific significance, Marce’s journey to Hub, the center of the Empire, is a major part of the book’s driving narrative. He and his father have been tasked with studying the Flow, the mysterious force that makes interplanetary travel possible, and a change in the Flow means Marce has to deliver their research to the emperox in person. It’s his first time leaving his home planet, and through Marce we see the Empire through the eyes of someone who can still appreciate the wonders of this universe. Dev Patel is great at pulling off that mix of intelligence and wide-eyed optimism, and it’d be great to see him playing an academic out of his depth.

Cardenia Wu-Patrick: Chloe Bennet

Cardenia was the result of the emperox’s liaison with an academic, and while she was raised in comfort, she was never meant to rule. Her half-brother dies shortly before the start of the book, and Cardenia is suddenly facing a life she’s never wanted. The emperox’s imminent passing from illness and Cardenia’s ascension to the throne of the greatest empire mankind’s ever seen are fraught with danger, astonishing discoveries, and devastating personal loss. Chloe Bennet has the action chops to handle some of the more difficult sequences any adaptation of The Collapsing Empire would require, and she manages comedy and drama with equal aplomb. She’d be perfect as a fish out of water determined to do her best for her people.


Our Antagonist Siblings

Lord Amit Nohamapetan: Kumail Nanjiani

Amit, the heir to the House of Nohamapetan, one of the Empire’s most prominent guild families, is positioning himself as a potential suitor for Cardenia. Oddly enough, he actually seems to like her, but the idea to court her is obviously not his own, and the political maneuverings of the Nohamapetans are one of the many puzzles Cardenia has to wrangle throughout the book. Kumail would be brilliant as a royal suitor, funny and charismatic while internally torn between familial duty and actually enjoying the company of his target.


Lord Ghreni Nohamapetan: Riz Ahmed

Ghreni, conniving and clever and, for some reason, recently ingratiating himself to the Duke of End, is a character whose motivations slowly unfurl throughout the novel. He’s situated himself in the middle of the civil war on End and is carefully guiding events from the wings. Riz can handle action sequences and heavy emotional moments, which are key to Ghreni’s storyline.


Lady Nadashe Nohamapetan: Armeena Khan

The real power behind the Nohamapetan name, Nadashe was engaged to Emperox Batrin Wu’s heir, Rennered, prior to his untimely death. Cardenia’s ascension to power has thrown off her plans, so now she has to delegate emperox-wooing to Amit and is struggling to hold onto her seat on Cardenia’s council. This would be Armeena’s first big English-speaking role, but she’s shown a lot of emotional depth in her previous performances and would have time to get her footing, as Nadashe’s onscreen appearances are minimal in this first book.


Our Supporting Characters

Naffa Dolg: Gina Rodriguez

Cardenia’s best friend, a republican and a historian, Naffa has stepped into the role of the heir’s chief of staff. She basically has Eminently Capable and Not Here For Your Hesitance written on her forehead. Gina would do a great job of portraying the deep devotion and longtime friendship between Naffa and Cardenia while maintaining an air of professionalism.


Lady Vrenna Claremont: Summer Bishil

Marce’s sister and a soldier-turned-constable, Vrenna is a no-nonsense badass. The more socially and physically capable of the Claremont twins, the duty of taking care of her nerdy brother often falls to her. Summer would be amazing as the asskicking family protector.


Emperox Batrin Wu: Donnie Yen

It’s not really a spoiler to say that the Batrin’s death is a key driving force of the plot, since the first chapter of the book lays out the reality of his illness and the issue of Cardenia’s succession. It is a bit of a spoiler to say why I’d pick someone as young as Donnie Yen to play Chloe Bennet’s dad, so let’s just say I wanted to cast him and he has a bigger role than you’d expect.


Dr. Qui Drinin: Oscar Isaac

It’s not a big role, but it’s an emotionally important one. Dr. Qui Drinin is the royal physician, delivering news to Cardenia about her father’s health and also taking on the role of the doctor who will care for Cardenia for the rest of her reign. Oscar Isaac is a master of quiet emotional moments and I’d love to see him in a more literal caretaker role than he usually plays.


Countess Huma Lagos: Viola Davis

She only gets a handful of scenes in this first book, and she’s really not old enough to play Janelle’s mom, but Countess Huma Lagos is such an unmitigated badass the only person I could see playing her was Viola. To quote Kiva, “It was nice when you could look up to your parent, even as an adult, and think, This is who I fucking want to be when I grow up.


Count Jamies Claremont: Anupam Kher

Another small, but vital role, Count Claremont was the longtime friend that Emperox Batrin Wu initially sent to End to study the Flow. He’s a patriarch, a reluctant but dab hand at politics, and always, always a scientist. Anupam Kher has a history of turning up in minor roles and stealing every scene he appears in, which is perfect for Jamies.


Captain Tomi Blinnikka: Laverne Cox

The captain of Kiva’s ship, Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby, Blinnikka is poised in the face of all kinds of adversity. Blinnikka’s also the only soul on board who Kiva will deign to take orders from. I’d hoped Laverne might be cast in the new Star Trek show, but I think I’d be even more excited to see her show up on The Collapsing Empire.


Second Officer Waylov Brennir: John Boyega

It’s a small role, one scene, really, but Brennir serves as our introduction to Kiva and their interactions made me laugh out loud. Boyega would be a great fit for Brennir’s blase reaction to interrupting Kiva mid-liaison, demanding she deal with an uncooperative customs official and not-so-politely reminder her she can’t fire him.

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