Book #37: The Last Colony

I find myself incapable of writing a lengthy review for a John Scalzi book. Not because I don't like his books: with each novel I think he only gets better and better, and if anything I think The Last Colony, the third novel to take place in the Old Man's War universe, may be his most accomplished to date. I think the simple fact is I prefer to just let Scalzi's magic percolate inside me, where the feelings and impressions can remain potent, rather than diluted by meager attempts to write it down.

How do you categorize a book like this? In a broad sense it's SF, but underneath that glossy veneer is a novel about family and the things we're prepared to sacrifice for in the name of family. It's also about power, and about governments, and how people can be used as any piece on the chessboard to win the game, but are most often used as pawns. It's also about home: leaving home, and finding a new home. And yes: there are aliens and fantastical weapons and epic battles and superhuman feats of strength and agility. But Scalzi uses all of that for a single goal: to serve the story he wants to tell. If ever a book subscribed to the Atkins Diet, it would be The Last Colony. Even the dialog, which can fall anywhere from snappy banter a la old Howard Hawks films to more poignant, sentimental moments, serve to strengthen the characters and propel the story forward.

Ex-military hero and "Old Man" John Perry, his ex-Special Forces wife Jane Sagan and their adopted daughter Zoe (you can read Scalzi's previous novels Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades to get their stories, but it's not necessary - one of Scalzi's strengths is making his connected novels work as stand-alone entities as well) are asked to lead a group of colonists preparing to settle on a new world. Reluctantly they agree, only to find the world they're settling is not the one they thought they were, and the reasons for settling there have to do with a power struggle against a conglomerate known as The Conclave - a group of races who for reasons of their own are halting the future colonization of any planet by any race not part of the Conclave. Caught in the middle of this war, Perry and his family have to do anything they can to protect the settlement as they race to understand what's happening, why they were specifically chosen, and who, if anyone, is in the right of things.

There's a lot at play here - Scalzi juggles numerous faction and ideas that don't become fully clear until all is said and done. but he never loses sight of where the actual drama unfolds, in the dangers faced by his protagonists. John Perry is a great "everyman" - seeing the situation through his now-human eyes allows the reader an immersive experience, and seeing how his family and others react to the humanity of his actions makes for some wonderful interplay in the book. How it all ends was a fantastic surprise, and more proof (as if any was needed) that Scalzi is a major writer worthy of comparisons to the greats in the field.