June 05, 2007

BOOKS: The Last Colony, John Scalzi (2007)

A lively return to the universe of Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. John Perry, the soldier-hero of Old Man's War, has retired and settled down with his family when his old military commanders ask him and his wife, Jane, to serve as the leaders of a new colony, to be called Roanoke. John and Jane both suspect that there's more to the request than meets the eye, but they agree, and with their adopted daughter Zoe (who is the biological daughter of Charles Boutin, one of the principal characters of The Ghost Brigades), they head off to Roanoke.

They are, of course, right to be suspicious, as nothing about Roanoke is quite what they'd been led to believe. There are plot twists and bombshells every few chapters here, none of which I plan to spoil for you; suffice it to say that every bit of conniving you think you're figured out will prove to be covering another scheme that you'd never expected.

John Perry is a genial and droll narrator, though Scalzi too often has Perry deliberately conceal knowledge from us solely for dramatic effect. Something happens that is surprising to the readers, then Perry explains that because of X -- which happened last week, but he hadn't bothered to tell us about yet -- it's not really surprising at all. That's OK once or twice, but Scalzi repeats that trick too often here.

That's a mild quibble, though, and the novel as a whole is great fun. The story is cleverly constructed, the characters are sharply defined, and for all the scheming and conniving aliens and space battles, there's a surprising warmth to the story. John and Jane are flat-out nice people; you can't help rooting for them, and smiling every time they triumph over ludicrous odds. Scalzi says this is the last novel to be set in this universe, and it's a most satisfying conclusion to the series.

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