John Scalzi,
The Last Colony
(Tor, 2008)

Preface: For those of you who have not read the two previous books in this trilogy by John Scalzi, Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, this book might be confusing; while this story can stand alone, to some extent, the fictional universe and most of the characters all come out of the first two books.

In this universe, humans have spread out into the stars, created colonies and formed the Colonial Union. They also found other intelligent races, many of whom were into colonizing planets -- sometimes the same planets humans wanted, or ones humans had already colonized. The Colonial Defense Force was formed to protect the human colonies and fight the interspecies wars.

Where does the Colonial Defense Force get its recruits? That story is told in Old Man's War, where we meet John Perry, who leaves Earth to become a soldier. He later marries Jane Sagan, whose story is the focus of Ghost Brigades.

The story of The Last Colony focuses on both John Perry and Jane Sagan, who have survived their tours of duty with the Colonial Defense Force and, with their adopted daughter, Zoe, retired to administrative civilian jobs on the human colony of Huckleberry. Then their former boss, General Rybicki, talks them into becoming leaders of a new colony, Roanoke. Along with settles from 10 different human colonies, they arrive at Roanoke -- except it is the wrong planet! They find out the Colonial Union has stranded them there intentionally and without contact with anyone else.

The mystery gradually unravels, with universe-wide political and military aspects putting the colony of Roanoke in the crosshairs of just about everybody, including the Colonial Union. Can John and Jane lead their colony and help the colonists survive? Are they savvy enough, tough enough, clever enough and daring enough to not only unravel the mystery, but find a solution that saves every character in the book? There are enough twists, turns and surprises here to please any rollercoaster enthusiast.

My first John Scalzi book was Old Man's War, and I felt it was 10 steps beyond "good." That continues to be true here, with characters who are well-developed and realistic, despite their fantastical natures. The Savitri character was a lot of fun, as she acted as Perry's assistant, continually bantered with him and kept him humble. The pace is good and the flow is fairly even, although the part after the founding of the Roanoke colony is a bit slow, and I wondered if the book was going to be too similar to Allen Steele's Coyote series. When the pace picks back up, though, watch out! It is like watching a chess game where half of the pieces are trying to take control and be the one playing the game. Scalzi comes close here to the complexity of Frank Herbert in Dune ("a feint within a feint within a feint"). Overall, there is little less action than in the previous two books, but this one also comes off as more personal and interactionally rich.

Just when you think it is over, then bam! The ending is not only beautiful but left me with a true admiration for the character of John Perry, and a wish that he was running for office, so that I could vote for him.

review by
Chris McCallister

25 October 2008

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