Published by Tor
John W. Campbell Award winner John Scalzi brings the story of John Perry to a close in his latest novel, The Last Colony. In this offering, Perry and Sagan are chosen by the Department of Colonization to lead a seed colony; that is, to be the leaders of a group of people who will settle and populate a habitable planet with no intelligent life. After being settled on the planet Huckleberry for about the eight years that follow the events of The Ghost Brigades, Perry, Sagan, and daughter Zoe are ready to leave and start fresh again. Essentially while John is happy, he feels something is missing. The planet they are asked to seed is Roanoke, a name with mysterious historical connotations. Nothing is made of this connection, at least initially. Only when Perry and his colony arrive at the planet does the name begin to make sense.
Of course everything isn’t as the DoC laid out to John and Jane, but if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be a story. Scalzi is more than a good enough a writer not to rest on such a line of thinking, and to rest his reputation on his past novels. With each entry in his chronicling of John Perry and Jane Sagan, he throws something new into the mix. With Old Man’s War, he gave us Military Science Fiction with a fresh twist – 75 year old recruits; in The Ghost Brigades he laid the blanket of Military SF over a murder mystery; and here, he fashions something of an action-packed political thriller. Thankfully, John Scalzi can craft a slam-bang story to flesh out that minimalist description.
One thing I’ve enjoyed about Scalzi’s work thus far is his wry sense of humor. John Perry has always been something of a wise-ass, and this character trait is in robust effect in The Last Colony. While the novel is told in the first person from Perry’s point of view, the majority of this wise-ass humor comes across in the dialogue, and more often than not when Perry is talking with his superiors. Dialogue is and has been one of John Scalzi’s strengths as a writer, so it was nice to see that already good dialogue improve.
The whole story, from the dialogue to the action, move very quickly. The book is rather short at just over 300 pages, so the book is a quick read. For all the briskness of plot and brevity of the book, quite a lot happens. Perry and Sagan travel from one world to another, start a colony on a new planet, meet more genetically modified humans, encounter hostile aboriginal aliens on Roanoke, avoid planetary destruction, start a war, and travel to a third world. It really is impressive how tightly Scalzi packs such a complex and entertaining story into The Last Colony. What makes the novel an even more rewarding experience is how often I was surprised throughout the course of the story. While [thankfully] not a vertiginous novel of plot twists, Scalzi did take the story in unexpected directions that by story’s conclusion, came together logically. If I have any complaint, it is a minor one. An element that seemed a key plot point in the first third of the novel is not quite followed up fully or completely consistently with what came before, in the series or novel. Then again, the story is more about John Perry, Jane Sagan and daughter Zoe, so this point could easily be fodder for future stories in this universe, despite Perry’s story having concluded.
The Last Colony is both the third of a connected series of books and accessible to new readers. Enough detail is given of the main characters past, and more so, through their actions and words, to keep new readers engaged and fully attuned to the story at hand. Of course, this is no excuse for not reading Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. I also appreciated some of the SFnal “Easter Eggs” Scalzi dropped in, as well as a nod or two to readers of his blog who are familiar with feline incident from the past.
John Scalzi is a fast writer, with this being the fourth book he’s published with Tor in a matter of two years. This is a good thing for fans of entertaining, thought-provoking science fiction – John Scalzi’s books will be around for a while. Entertaining in the sense that the pages move quick, you don’t want to stop reading, and you find yourself smiling and laughing at the words on the page. Thought provoking in the sense that Scalzi extrapolates today’s society into a far future, and plausibly. I guess what I’m saying is that you should read The Last Colony, by John Scalzi.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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