Sunday, August 09, 2009


By John Scalzi
Tor Science Fiction
320 pages

Here we have the third in John Scalzi’s Colonial Union series begun with OLD MAN’S WAR and followed by THE GHOST BRIGADES. Taking up the mantle of Robert Heinlein in dealing with mankind’s future and the roles the military and politics will play is the core of this series. In the far future, man has finally gone to the stars and learned that we are not alone in the universe. Some alien races are friendly and others are not. It is the latter the Colonial Union, the administrative body that controls colonization, learns to keep at bay with their Navy & Marines called the Colonial Defense Forces.

In OLD MAN’S WAR we first met John Perry, a seventy year old Earthman who volunteered to join the CDF in exchange for longevity via a newly manufactured synthetic warrior’s body. The deal was if he put his new body on the front lines for five year and survived, then he would be rewarded with a cloned, more human body and allowed to live the remainder of his days on one of the Union’s far-flung colonies. Whereas the sequel, THE GHOST BRIGADE, continued to the focus on the military, in particular the Special Forces group of which Jane Sagan was an officer, this third chapter takes us to Perry’s promised new life.

As the book opens, John, his wife Jane and their adopted daughter, Zoe, are all living peacefully and contentedly on such a colony planet. Much to their surprise, one day they are visited by John’s former military commander, a Marine General named Rybicki, with a very special request. The Colonial Union is about to start the first ever second generation colony made up of representative groups from ten established colonies. Rybicki convinces them that this amalgamated new colony is the wave of the future and requires their special skills, both as administrators and former military to make it succeed. He plays on their strong sense of loyalty and both agree to leave their home and become the leaders of the new Roanoke colony.

Once they, and twenty-five hundred colonists, arrive at their new world, they immediately learn just how much they have been duped. Not only is the planet they have come to not the one they were intended for, but it is revealed to them that they are about to become pawns in a new cosmic conflict that threatens the Colonial Union. Over the past decade, unbeknown to the average citizen, a group of aliens under a visionary named General Gau, have formed an alliance called the Conclave with the solitary goal of control all future expansion in the universe. Once established, the Conclave declares itself the only authority on colonization and no new colonies, from any race, will be permitted without their approval, including those of the human race. Bristling at this imposed alien threat, the Colonial Union responds by openly defying the Conclave with the establishment of the Roanoke Colony. But to guarantee its safety, it uses subterfuge and keeps the exact location of the colony hidden from the Conclave.

Once Perry and the other colonists learn they’ve been put into a potential new apocalyptic struggle, things start to go to hell fast. John and Jane find themselves trying to make the colony work while at the same time learn if the Colonial Union’s schemes and strategies don’t have further implications for their very survival.

Scalzi’s pacing is first rate and the surprises keep coming, one after another until the true purpose of THE LAST COLONY become horribly clear to our characters. All the while he weaves a skillful story about likeable people caught up in a situation that will test their loyalty, character and eventual love for one another. It’s powerful stuff and it is played out without skipping a beat. There are timeless questions about what rights does any government have to control the destiny of its citizens on the basis of doing what is right for them. Is it really government by the people, or government by the bureaucrats?

Action, adventure, alien races, philosophical debates and a very polished narration. What more could you want from a science fiction novel? Scalzi is clearly one of the best writers of the genre working today. THE LAST COLONY is just more proof of that fact.

No comments: