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The Last Colony (Old Man's War) Mass Market Paperback – July 29, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Full of whodunit twists and explosive action, Scalzi's third SF novel lacks the galactic intensity of its two related predecessors, but makes up for it with entertaining storytelling on a very human scale. Several years after the events of The Ghost Brigades (2006), John Perry, the hero of Old Man's War (2005), and Jane Sagan are leading a normal life as administrator and constable on the colonial planet Huckleberry with their adopted daughter, Zoë, when they get conscripted to run a new colony, ominously named Roanoke. When the colonists are dropped onto a different planet than the one they expected, they find themselves caught in a confrontation between the human Colonial Union and the alien confederation called the Conclave. Hugo-finalist Scalzi avoids political allegory, promoting individual compassion and honesty and downplaying patriotic loyalty—except in the case of the inscrutable Obin, hive-mind aliens whose devotion to Zoë will remind fans of the benevolent role Captain Nemo plays in Verne's Mysterious Island. Some readers may find the deus ex machina element a tad heavy-handed, but it helps keep up the momentum. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Scalzi's Hugo finalist,Old Man's War (2005) first spawned the equally entertaining Ghost Brigades (2006). And now, a third volume reprises the story of John Perry, former planet-hopping soldier who has now traded his genetically enhanced second body for a commonplace one and a peaceful retirement. Free from the stresses of battle, he's enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and adopted daughter on a remote Colonial Union world. Then a former commanding general drops by with a tempting proposal. Perry and his wife are apparently the perfect candidates to lead a promising new colony populated by citizens from 10 worlds. They accept, but then the CU deceitfully strands them and their charges on an unknown world. Perry discovers they are pawns in a deadly game calculated to destroy an alien coalition whose purposes include blocking further human colonization. A less-action-laden story line ratchets the excitement down from that of the previous books, but Scalzi's captivating blend of off-world adventure and political intrigue remains consistently engaging. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Scalzi is one is one of the best at it that I've seen since the 1950s and1960s (when I was a less sophisticated reader).
His story and series arcs are coherent, plausible and intriguing with realistic, empathic characters. His thematic arcs teach very positive human values about family, loyalty, love, self-sacrifice and the power of individuals to change history.
He avoids the trap of demonizing enemys. Most importantly he shows the the power of the merciful side of the warriors Ethos to end wars and avoid genocide. I believe that he rightfully ascribes that ethos to totally alien military leaders.
In all Scalzi gives us a delightful space opera-ish tale that deftly critiques common human failures, the realistic limitations of the 'assumed' omniscience of powerful people, and the ability of 'ordinary' people, who dare to act, to avert apparently inevitable disaster.
I highly recommend, and look forward to his future work.
Comparisons. As you probably know, the Old Man's War series is military science fiction. This genre includes Ian Douglas' numerous works (Heritage trilogy, Legacy trilogy, Inheritance trilogy, Star Carrier series, and others I've yet to read), a few of the Iain Banks "Culture" series (Use of Weapons, at least, though maybe not). I think Douglas' work is a very close comparison to Scalzi's Old Man's War series.
Review. Last Colony picks up several years after the events of Ghost Brigades. Jane Sagan & Zoe Boutin have connected with the hero of the original piece, Old Man's War, John Perry and have settled on the colony world Huckleberry. Our plot is kicked off with John and Jane accepting an assignment from the Colonial Defense Force to lead a new colony. However, once they arrive at the planet, things quickly go awry. They're at the wrong planet, and a Special Forces solider/stowaway tells them that no one, not even the ship's crew, is allowed to leave.
Specific Critiques. Spoilers! As I mentioned at the start, the quality of this work suffered from an abundance of ideas and a lack of focus. As usual, Scalzi writes excellent, well thought out characters. The secondary characters all have distinct personalities, and their interactions & reactions to/with our protagonists are very realistic. I laughed several times at scenes where the characters were just talking with one another. Scalzi writes excellent dialogue. Similar to "Old Man's War", the aliens in the world of Last Colony are aliens in name only. While reading, I had to remind myself repeatedly that a character was in fact, not human, as their motivations and thought processes were all distinctly human like. Again, it's the Star Trek/Babylon 5 philosophy of aliens - they're just like us, but maybe a little more logical (Vulcans), or more mercantile (Centaurians), or more violent (Klingons). It's a matter of preference, true, but I enjoy my aliens actually seeming alien! I think Ian Douglas does this really well, so, I admit, I've been spoiled. Next, there's just too much going on in this novel for 340 pages. Too many plots are covered too briefly, leaving the reader dissatisfied. The most poignant example of this - it turns out the planet the colonists settle on is inhabited by an intelligent, stone age species of "werewolves". These werewolves kill one colonist, then ambush a party of colonists out for revenge, nearly killing John and Jane in the process. Then, nothing. These dangerous aliens are never mentioned again, despite the fact they're discovered at the beginning of the second act. That side plot, thus, served no purpose. And, given the immensity of the galaxy spanning, political and military drama that Scalzi was trying write, this side plot took up 20-30 pages that could have been put to much, much better use. That's bad editing, really. Also, the deus ex machina is fairly outrageously lazy. At the middle of the third act, the colonists find themselves unprotected by the Colonial Defense Force, and John turns to the Federation, whoops, I meant "Conclave", for some kind of help. While on this assignment, Zoe, without prompting, asks her Obin bodyguards for help defending the colony with anything they can offer. Well, it just so happens that the Obin recently met with the super advanced race the Consu, where they just happened to mention the plight of Zoe and her colony, and the Consu were so impressed, that they handed over a "magic plot hole fixer" to the Obin as a gift for Zoe and the colony, and the Obin, I guess, just remembered that right now at the critical juncture, and turned over the "magic plot hole fixer" to Zoe and colony, which, it just so happens, completely saves the day. Yes, I know that was a run on. It was for effect. Anyhow, the "magic plot hole fixer" was a device that generated a field that prevented firearms from working, somehow. Finally, the story suffers from numerous plot holes often fixed with John and Jane somehow having access to information due to her Special Forces contacts. For instance, upon learning of the assassination plot against the leader of the Federation, shoot, sorry, Conclave, John sends Zoe with her Obin bodyguards to contact the leader and warn him, because John feels the leader is sympathetic to humanity. Why does the SF General tell John about the assassination? How do the Obin or John know how to contact this leader? Why does that leader later assist John in reaching out to Earth? It's so grandiose it strains believability. Anyhow, that's enough specific critiques.
Final Thoughts. I'm giving this one the much dreaded (haha!) "good to read on the plane" rating. It's perfectly adequate, better than "Old Man's War" but receded from the improvements of "Ghost Brigades".
I've read quite a bit of science fiction lately, and this novel is a jarring contrast to one I recently finished, River of Gods (Ian McDonald). Whereas the latter was, at times, difficult to follow and understand (I would term it literary, intelligent science fiction), Scalzi's work is far more accessible to the average science fiction fan. After reading River of Gods and Saturn's Children (Charles Stross), I needed a break and this novel was a perfect breather. It is easy to follow, well developed and enjoyable to read. Not groundbreaking or award winning in my opinion, but if a good science fiction story is what you're looking for, and you're not in the mood for deep, philosophical Philip Dick, Frank Herbert style sci-fi, you could do far worse than Scalzi's trilogy. As with Old Man's War, I felt that some of the dialogue was contrived, but not to the extent of detracting from the story.
Bottom line, if you're looking for classic Isaac Asimov style science fiction, this is just the ticket. Conversely, other authors are pushing the boundary of science fiction into the literary realm. This is not one of those, deep philosophical, complex works.
I enjoyed how the book gave the characters a view of the setting. the role of humanity in interstellar politics is interesting to read about, and I like the way challenges of the main characters, but the rising action is awful. Scalzi's spends probably a third of the book having the characters deal with a threat that is completely unrelated to anything, and doesn't have any major resolution. It was a frustrating read, and a disappointing sequel to one of the best SF series written in many years.