Sunday, April 18, 2010
The Last Colony, by John Scalzi, published in 2007 by Tor Books
The main character of each of the two previous novels in the "Old Man's War" series are reunited in The Last Colony: John Perry and Jane Sagan. John has retired from the Colonial military and has been given a new civilian body (pretty much like normal humans, as opposed to military bodies, which feature all sorts of upgrades). Jane has retired form the Special Forces (meaning she is a clone grown from a dead volunteer's DNA and has spent her entire 10 years of life as a soldier), and is also given a civilian body. John and Jane have married, and are minor members of the bureaucracy in the local government on a peaceful colony world. Together they are raising an adopted daughter, Zoë.
Towards the beginning of the novel, John and Jane are approached by the Colonial government and asked to serve as the leaders of a brand new colony being planned on a world the Colonials have traded for from another alien species. In this series, interstellar civilizations compete fiercely for inhabitable worlds to colonize, very frequently resulting in all out warfare. To obtain a new world without fighting is almost unheard of, so everyone is eager for the new colony to succeed.
Herein follows minor spoilers:
Immediately upon arrival, things go wrong, beginning with the fact that they arrive at the wrong planet. This is followed by the fact that the Colonial government lied to the new colonists and sent them to the wrong planet on purpose. This is followed by the fact that a brand new interstellar, interspecies government (that humans refused to join) has declared an immediate moratorium on all new colonies and actively hunts new colonies down and destroys them. Which is further followed by the fact that the Colonial government "let slip" the existence of the new colony on purpose to try to undermine the authority of the new interstellar, interspecies government. On top of all this, the planetary survey the humans did prior to colonization was incomplete and hasty and the planet has dangers that the colonists are only just discovering. And John and Jane, as representatives (and dupes) of the Colonial government, are perceived by their fellow colonists as liars and their authority as leaders of the colony is undermined.
An interesting story, but not as fun as the two previous books. (See my review of Old Man's War.) There is much less emphasis on military action, so fans of military SF might feel shorted here. There is lots of political intrigue, both at the interstellar level and at the level of the new colony itself. This I like. We also get a more nuanced view of the relations between humans (led by the Colonial government) and other alien species. Some species consider humans to be the scum of the galaxy! And they may not be that wrong! There are a few points that didn't quite work for me, including a heavily played up threat to the colonists on their new homeworld which is never quite resolved and then conveniently disappears for the rest of the book when the "A" plot picks up more steam.
A fun book to read. I am not disappointed to have given the author and his publishers my money, and I hope they view my purchase as incentive to produce further good works. This book was read by me on my Kindle, and I never would have purchased it had tor.com not offered Old Man's War for free a while back. This single free e-book has lead to the purchase of two more Scalzi books, whic I hope is viewed as incentive to offer further free e-books for established authors with popular series in print.
Next up: Black Magic Woman, by Justin Gustainis
What other people have to say about The Last Colony:
John DeNardo at SF Signal
A review by Russ Allbery
Rick Kleffel at The Agony Column book reviews
lorin_arch at arch thinking
gav at NextRead