The Last Colony
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007
Tor Books / Tom Doherty Associates
US First Edition Hardcover
320 Pages; $23.95
Publication Date: 04-24-2007
Date Reviewed: 06-03-2007
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 in 'The 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 fiction canon.
'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 satisfyingly architected.
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.