BRIEF SYNOPSIS: John Perry and Jane Sagan are assigned to lead a new colony world only to discover they are pawns in a risky game played by the Colonial Union.
PROS: Well-written narrative; excellent storytelling; fun characters; gives closure to this superb series.
CONS: Scenes of space colony life not as interesting as the other parts; one minor, but unfortunately obvious, foreshadowing of the ending.
BOTTOM LINE: Except for a few minor glitches, this lives up to the reputation of the previous books.
John Scalzi’s latest book, The Last Colony, had a lot to live up to. It follows the story of John Perry and Jane Sagan that began with the excellent books Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. Whereas those books dealt more with the warfare aspects of military science fiction, The Last Colony is largely concerned with diplomacy, political intrigue, and the trials of space colonization. Could this change in focus allow the book to live up to the reputation set forth by its predecessors?
The plot is enticing enough. John Perry and Jane Sagan, former members of the Colonial Defense Forces, are living a peaceful life as leaders of a small colony on an already-settled world. Off-planet, battles are still waged as the Colonial Union seeks to spread humanity among the stars. This does not sit well an alien alliance called the Conclave (led by the honorable General Gau), who wants the CU to halt their colonization and threaten destruction otherwise. Despite this, John and Jane are asked to lead the efforts of starting a brand new colony world, purely for political reasons – it seems that the many colonies of humanity want to contribute to said colonization, a venture usually reserved for people from Earth. They accept the assignment to lead the colonization of Roanoke but soon learn that the Colonial Union has ulterior motives, ones that – for starters – require the colonists to live without the aid of modern technology so they do not attract the attention of the Conclave. But even John and Jane do not foresee that even deeper plans are at work and the consequences of failure could affect more than just their own seedling colony.
Fans of the former books beware: this is not the same focus as the previous books. Instead of a plethora of battle scenes in space, we get tough-talk in the halls of diplomacy (a holdover from The Android’s Dream, perhaps?) and scenes of hardship in the fields of a new colony. (At times, I thought a better title for the book would have been The Lost Colony.) Also know that when we finally do see fast-moving action scenes, they are every bit as good as you remember. For readers new to Scalzi: The Last Colony has minor spoilers for the previous books so start with Old Man’s War. You’ll thank me.
One of the biggest draws of these books – still – is Scalzi’s accessible writing style. These are the kinds of books you give to readers who don’t (or only casually) read science fiction. The science fiction elements are not all that involved and have been done before, but under Scalzi’s experienced hand – and here’s good news for hardcore science fiction fans, too – they seem fresh nonetheless. At the very least, they are highly enjoyable to read.
What makes them enjoyable? The characters, for one thing. John Perry and Jane Sagan are as fun as always. John’s quick to quip, whether with his wife or his irascible assistant, Savitri, but he remains the confident, level-headed voice of logic and reason, doing whatever it takes to do the right thing. Although some of his actions stem from patriotism (a recurring theme in The Last Colony), his main motivation comes from his love for his wife and daughter. Jane is the tough-female archetype, never wavering in strength. Even their daughter Zoe belongs in this family. Her wisecracking nature reflects the repartee of her parents, but she has a lot of Jane’s toughness in her as well. Zoe turns out to be an important part of The Last Colony, not for the least of reasons that her “pet” bodyguards are a pair of aliens (Obin, in case you were wondering) that seem to know more than they’re letting on.
My only gripe with the book occurs in its early parts, where it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a space colonization story or military science fiction with political-intrigue. The latter type passages were far more engrossing than the former ones. That said, I duly note that the sequence of colony scenes that starts off with “It was raining werewolves” was definitely a rollicking good read. But it really wasn’t until the true (thus far) intentions of the Colonial Union were revealed that this book lives up to reputation of the former ones, including some nice plot twists and well-written narrative. And live up to it, it does.
There was one unfortunately obvious foreshadowing of the ending which, partly for selfish reasons, was bittersweet. The story is nicely (and sentimentally) tied up and gives some welcome closure. However, looking back on the positive reading experience of all these books, it’s a little sad to know – as Scalzi states in the acknowledgements – that this is the end of the line for characters which we’ve come to like so much.