Governments lie to us, sometimes with what they may see as a good reason;
our families do not. Between these extremes of the ultimate and the
intimate, we plod through each day of our lives. In the fiction of
John Scalzi, those lives consist of high adventure, gripping emotions,
and lots of deadly aliens trying to blow us up. 'The Last Colony'
is the capstone of a trilogy begun in 'Old
Man's War' and continued
Ghost Brigades'. Scalzi keeps his characters' feet to the
fire and his readers glued to the page. 'The Last Colony' offers
all the virtues of the first two books in the series and the additional
satisfaction of a conclusion to the story arc that they begin. It's
also clever enough to leave the door open for more exploration in
this universe. Scalzi may blow a lot of things up, but this series
is not one of them.
'The Last Colony' is very much the final book in a trilogy, and though
you could read it without having read the previous entries, you'd be
doing yourself a disservice as a reader, especially since the preceding
books are so slim. There are probably fewer words in this entire series
than there are in single volumes of works with a comparable scope. Still,
be warned as you read this review, if you've not read the other books
in the series, a review of this book necessarily may contain minor revelations
of what happened in the previous entries. If you enjoy space opera with
an emotional core and lots of well-wrought action, then read the books
in order. Scalzi's trilogy is a sterling contribution to the science
'The Last Colony' begins with John Perry and his family enjoying a peaceful
life on a farming planet. Their big problems involve goats. That does
not last of course, and Perry is asked, along with his and child, to
lead another colony, one that may serve as the focal point for an interstellar
confrontation. As much as Perry and his loved ones are enjoying a brief
spot of peace, they all know that their truest interests and destinies
lie elsewhere. Like where stuff is getting blown up amidst complicated
political and interpersonal wrangling.
The family interactions between Perry, his wife and his child drive the
novel. They're delightfully complicated by the science fictional setting
that Scalzi has created. You'll get a novel angle on teen snarkiness
and inter-spousal teasing. It all rings heartbreakingly true and is remarkably
saccharine-free. That's a hard target to hit, but Scalzi seems to hone
in on it without effort. With the baseline characters rock-solid, the
reader is left to deal with a host of new faces, and here's where Scalzi
shows his chops. The Perry family's company on this trip are just as
memorable and expertly sketched as the centerpieces. Scalzi is great
at character arcs; everyone starts out as one thing but ends up another
in the most rewarding manner possible. Scalzi knows when to draw close
and make us care and when to pull back and drop in a few rounds of mordantly
humorous dialogue. You'll remember a larger cast of characters from this
book than you'll expect.
Of course, lots of the mordant dialogue occurs when stuff is being blowed
up by inimical aliens and crafty, scheming humans. If you require detailed
descriptions of aliens down to the last drop of slime, down to the tip
of the tentacle, then Scalzi is not your man. Instead, he takes the route
of letting the reader fill in the details while he orchestrates the action.
This tack is one of Scalzi's strengths, and the reasons these books are
so admirably terse. On the other hand, Scalzi knows how to scheme as
well as any government appointee. While it is true and probably fortunate
he missed a calling working in say, the State Department or the Department
of Defense, he sure seems to have that mindset wired. The result is a
wonderfully complicated and enjoyable plot with pawns, kings and high-tech
shenanigans that seems as real as tomorrow's speechifying, only far more
Scalzi writes in a meat-and-potatoes prose with lots of bantering dialogue.
He even waxes poetic now and then, as in the evocative opening paragraphs.
But mostly what you have here are seemingly the perfect words to tell
this nice and not-so-little story. All this is in service to some appropriately
mind-boggling ideas and salted with entertaining science fiction info-dumps.
'The Last Colony' will kick your butt across the cosmos and make you
care. It will make you smile. As the conclusion to a series, it will
simply satisfy readers. Maybe you'll even shed a tear or two. But chances
are, you'll just want to get out there and blow up some inimical aliens..