Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Review: The Last Colony

I've read and reviewed John Scalzi's Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades so when I was at the used bookstore and saw the book-club edition of the final book of that particular loose trilogy, I had to get it. That book was entitled, The Last Colony (ISBN: 9780765316974) and clocked in at 308 pages. I call it a loose trilogy because the set doesn't really tell an overarching storyline, but rather three distinct adventures, with common characters and settings. Anyways, since this is a the third book in a series, there's a lot of overhead in continuity to reach up to. As always, the first thing we look at is the dust-jacket blurb:

John Perry, the hero of John Scalzi's Hugo-nominated debut novel, Old Man's War, has found peace in a violent universe, living quietly with his wife and daughter on one of humanity's many colonies. It's a good life, yet there's something... missing. When John and Jane are asked to lead a new colony world, he jumps at the chance to explore the universe once more.

But Perry quickly finds out that nothing is what it seems. He and his new colony are pawns in an interstellar game of diplomacy and war between humanity's Colonial Union and a new, seemingly unstoppable alien alliance that has ordered an end to all human colonization. As this grand gambit rages above, on the ground Perry struggles to keep his colonists alive in the face of threats both alien and familiar, on a planet that keeps its own fatal secrets.

For the survival of his colony and his family, Perry must unravel the web of lies, half-truths, and deception spun around him and uncover the shocking true purpose of his colony--and fight to prevent a war that not only threatens to engulf his new home, but promises the destruction of the Colonial Union. Three are few options, and no margin for error, for Perry to keep his colony from becoming the last colony of the human race.
I'm of two-minds of this particular blurb. First it works. I actually read this blurb before I read either Old Man's War or The Ghost Brigades, and it was on the strength of this blurb that I went and looked at Old Man's War. Yet, it's long. It took up the entire dust jacket. Maybe I'm just finicky over these things, but length is still an issue for me on these things.

Oh well.

Onto the plot. Or plots actually. You've got the whole colony setting up thing, and then when that is getting underway nicely, you start dealing with the colony and its relation to the Colonial Union and the Conclave. The Conclave is that new, seemingly unstoppable alien alliance discussed in the blurb. Frankly, I'm amused by the Conclave. It's a decidedly Star Trek take to insert into his universe, especially when the first novel spent the entire book hammering home the thought that all aliens were out there to kill, and possibly eat, humanity as a whole. Of course, Scalzi once more pushes in the thought that humanity isn't the end-all, be-all for his literary creations as humanity wasn't responsible for the creation of the Conclave. Did they have an alliance? Yes. One that was attempted to be forged as a direct answer to combat the Conclave.

Anyways, the plots move along face and fun. Propelled by the sheer force of will of the characters and the narrative.

The two main characters here are from Scalzi's previous novels. John Perry of course, the protagonist from the first novel, Old Man's War. As in that novel, he's also our POV character here. Then we have Jane Sagan, Perry's wife and a former Special Forces operative who was built from the DNA of Perry's first wife, who died incidentally prior to the events of OMW. Yet, tell me that that doesn't give you the heebie-jeebies. I get confused at those folks who want to create clones of their dogs and cats so that they can have their Fluffy back, but Perry here, he gets a handy-dandy cloned version of his dead wife. Beyond them, you have a host of secondary characters who existed in the previous novels, as well as a few brand new characters. None of them stand-out and demand screen time, but that's more an artifact of the first-person which the story is told in, than any failing on the author's part.

Settings were not quite as diverse as they were in OMW. You have the colony at the start of the book, Huckleberry. The colony they move to, Roanoke, and then various space stations and starships. Of these, Roanoke is developed the most. He comes up with a host of technological goodies, and then, to me at least, takes great pleasure in denying his characters their use. Regardless though, things are described in quite a bit of detail, though sometimes it was lacking. For example, he described one alien race as looking like a werewolf. But was he talking Teen Wolf, An American Werewolf in London or Wolf werewolves? There's a lot of play in using something as undefined as werewolf as a description. Of course that could very well have been his point.

Stumbling over to themes, that would have to be home, and your duty to it. This is more for Sagan's character than anything else. Since she's Special Forces, and basically built from the DNA of the dead, she feels as if she doesn't have a home. The whole book works as a good allegory for her, and what it means to have one, and most especially what it means to find it. This is done rather well through the use of having Sagan look at the Constellations of the various planets they visit.

Now, I have to confess something. Oddly, I think I've confessed this before. Specifically on the review of The Ghost Brigades. I LIKE Scalzi's writing. I like his characters. I like the humor they have. I think he's a great writer. So, of course my reviews of his books will be biased by that unabashed fanboy-ism. Yet, regardless of that, I think that this is a fun book. It's easy to read, and better yet, you want to read it. Nothing so annoying as to find yourself time to read a book, to discover that your chosen book is just one that's utterly unreadable. Yet, as I said, this isn't one of those. While I didn't inhale it as I have some books, there was never a time when I just felt like hiding it away to never read again. Best of all, it provides a brilliant endcap to his trilogy. If you've read either of the first two, then, I say read this one as well. I also say if you've not read any of them, make sure you do so. You'll be happier for it.

In the end, this gets a 3.7 out of 4.

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