Yes, I said I’d have this up last week. I forgot. I blazed trough Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades back in June but the library’s copy of The Last Colony had been missing until just recently and I’m loathe to buy a book in a series if I don’t already own the previous volumes. While I think the middle novel, The Ghost Brigades, was the strongest of the three main novels (I’ve yet to read Zoe’s Tale) it is at least as strong a novel as Old Man’s War and fitting endcap to this chapter of the story. The Last Colony brings us back to John Perry and former-Ghost Brigade soldier Jane Sagan who have taken administrative positions on a colony world and are raising the now teen-aged Zoe; daughter of The Ghost Brigades’ Charles Boutin. Convinced by the Colonial Union to head up a new colony, the first to use colonists from other colonies, Perry and his family head off to the ominously named Roanoke colony. Of course all is not as it seems as forces larger than Roanoke have plans to use it as a pawn in deadly game intergalactic politics.
Readers of The Ghost Brigades will remember the alliance of aliens that had banded together in a coalition known as the Conclave. That notion is explored in greater, though still scant, detail here. As I said, Roanoke is a key piece in the obvious conflict between humanity and the Conclave of course, that isn’t the whole picture and the real story is more deeply tied to the hints and side commentary Scalzi has been building upon since the start of Old Man’s War; namely the colonial governing body’s near complete control of information. The authoritarian and controlling nature of Scalzi’s version of human government has been a less-than-subtle presence throughout the books so far but the threats faced in both The Ghost Brigades and Old Man’s War offered little opportunity to really get into the meat of the issue. So, while The Last Colony is definitely the least action-oriented of the novels as the central conflict of the novel revolves around ferreting out the intentions of the Colonial Union.
It is also nice to note that some of the more cogent analysis on the squabble over the various patches of the know universe comes from the leader of the Conclave: General Gao. General Gao points out that this constant squabbling over a tiny patch of habitable planets has stymied exploration and development outside of known space. Scalzi presented an interesting turn by casting the Colonial Union government as cold, heartless and mostly faceless bogeymen while the “real” bogeyman embody a sense of hope and compassion. Gao’s short commentary and the dangerous position that misinformation puts Perry and his people in underscores the importance of change not only in the development of the individual but in society as well. It also makes the comeuppance delivered to the Colonial Union at the end of the novel all the more delicious.
Even with its scarcity of action The Last Colony remains a surprisingly taught novel. The large scale notions about humanity and society at large come carefully packaged with a set of well rounded characters whom the reader grows quickly (or has in previous novels) attached to. The jockeying for position of the Roanoke colony makes for a nice bit of drama that, at least during one part of the novel, is a result of sharing too much information and not knowing when information should be kept secret; a nice twist that servers an excellent counterpart of the overall role of information in the majority of the novel. While I’m sad that this storyline is over I’m excited to take a look at Zoe’s Tale (which I believe occurs during a portion of this novel) and hope that one day Scalzi returns to the universe he has created here (the novel’s finale certainly leaves room for further exploration, while greater mysteries like the Consu remain woefully underexplored). I can’t really recommend these novels enough. Anyone even remotely interesting in sci-fi should give Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony a look.