Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Last Colony - John Scalzi

    2007; 320 pages.  Book 3 (out of 6) in the Old Man’s War series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Science Fiction; Military Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    For John Perry and his wife Jane, life in the colony Huckleberry is just about perfect.  They’ve both retired from the Colonial Defense Forces, which means they had to give up their synthetically enhanced (and green) fighting bodies. But it was worth it, and now they're content to watch their daughter Zoe grow up in a normal environment.

    Ah, but leave it to the CDF to come calling to try to sweet-talk them into a new adventure.  No, it won’t be in the armed forces again.  All the CDF wants them to do is to head a brand new seed settlement on a brand new world.  There’s really no risk; it’s a planet the Obin have willingly given to the humans in exchange for a different one.

    Of course, the CDF always has an ulterior motive for everything they do.  And they’ve decided to name this new settlement “Roanoke”, after the legendary “lost colony” back on Earth.

    Hmmm.  I wonder why they’d choose the name of a failed colony?

What’s To Like...
    The Last Colony is the third book in John Scalzi’s tremendously popular (just try to get copies of them from your library without putting a hold on them) Old Man’s War series.  Structurally, it reminds me of the first book – there’s not a lot of action at first as Scalzi sets the stage and our two protagonists help their settlers start building civilization from scratch on a new planet.  But just like in the first book – if you are patient, the thrills and spills and kills arise eventually, in abundance, and just keep on going up through the final page.

    The world-building is, as expected with a Scalzi novel, detailed and believable.  I liked the “fur trees” on Roanoke, as well as the new critters – fanties, yotes, and whatever long-clawed things made those scratches on the settlement’s walls.  Once again we are treated to an array of interplanetary races – the Obin, the Arrisians, the Whaid, and four or five others.

    The best part of the world-building is the characters themselves.  John, Jane, and Zoe we already know.  But is Manfred Trujillo a help at Roanoke or a snake in the grass?  Ditto for Generals Gau and Rybicki.  The former is in theory a foe, and the latter an ally.  But those designations get delightfully blurred.  And if Hickory, Dickory, and Savitri don’t make you chuckle at times, something’s wrong.

    Finally, there’s the twists and turns in the plotline and the multiple layers of deception.  Everyone has hidden agendas, and it seems the closer they are to John and Jane – and especially Zoe – the less they can be trusted.  The Obin rules for Hickory and Dickory protecting Zoe may be amusing, but if saving Zoe means killing John and Jane, they will do it.

    Gau’s lieutenant approached him.  “What did he mean when he said you’ll hear his answer, General?” he asked.
    “They chant,” Gau said, and pointed toward the colony, still under spotlight.  “Their highest art form is a ritualized chant.  It’s how they celebrate, and mourn, and pray.  Chan was letting me know that when he’s done talking with his colonists, they would chant their answer to me.”
    “Are we going to hear it from here?” the lieutenant asked.
    Gau smiled.  “You wouldn’t be asking that if you’d ever heard a Whaidi chant, Lieutenant.”  (pg. 167)

    “You don’t trust him, “ Jane said.
    “Let’s just say I have concerns,” I said.  “Rybicki didn’t go out of his way to offer up anything, either.  I asked him if he thought the Conclave would let us just walk away from this planet if we wanted to, and he suggested that they wouldn’t.”
    “He lied to you,” Jane said.
    “He chose to respond differently than total honesty would dictate,” I said.  “I’m not sure that’s exactly a lie.”  (pg. 187)

“There’s a goat in your office.”  “I thought we’d sprayed for those.”  (pg. 4)
    John Scalzi’s writing is once again superb, but this was the first book in the series where I felt the storytelling was at times rushed and disjointed.  Opportunities for excitement were missed, and plot holes developed.

    In the former category, Zoe gets sent on a diplomatic mission critical to Roanoke’s survival.  But she’s just a kid; so will she be in over her head?  Will there be witty repartee?  Will she have difficulty winning over the person she is meeting?  We’ll never know, since Scalzi zips straight to the result of her diplomatic task, skipping all details in between.

    The plot holes are even more vexing.  At least one of the indigenous species on Roanoke’s planet is both sentient and savage; and gave the humans all the trouble they could handle in the first encounter.  Kewlness. But then they completely disappear from the story, and their threat is thereafter totally ignored by the colonists.  WTF?

    But these are afterthoughts that only arose when I was done reading the book.  Overall, The Last Colony is an exciting page-turner that kept me up way past my bedtime as I wondered how the human race was going to avoid being blasted into stardust for their indiscretions.

    8 Stars.  Listen, The Last Colony wasn't quite as good as the first two books, but it still kept me on the edge of my seat.  And frankly, maintaining the level of excellence of Books 1 and 2 (reviewed here and here) borders on the impossible.  So do yourself a favor - read this series in order, so you can see right away Scalzi at his best.

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