Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Last Colony

The Last Colony
Written by John Scalzi
Tor Books
Reviewed by Carl V.

It is the moment of truth, that third film in a cinematic trinity, that third installment in a literary trilogy...will the culmination of all the time spent getting the characters to this point have been worth it all in the end? That moment of truth weighed heavily on my mind as I opened the cover to The Last Colony, the final chapter in John Scalzi's ode to some of the masterworks of science fiction.

I fell hard for the work of John Scalzi for one simple reason: his books, beginning with the John W. Campbell Award-winning book, Old Man's War, were the embodiment in both spirit and sense of humor of the works of Harry Harrison that I fell in love with as a kid and the works of Robert A. Heinlein that I learned to cherish as a young man. Fast paced action, a likeable hero-and later heroine, entertaining dialogue, and the wonder of outer space combined to prove that, in the hands of a craftsman, the time-worn tropes of science fiction can be as fresh and exciting as they were in the golden age of the genre.

Old Man's War was fantastic and fun, The Ghost Brigades was even better. Add to those the unique and thought-provoking novella, The Sagan Diary, and John Scalzi had his work cut out for him. As I said, it was the moment of truth: would Scalzi be able to deliver?

The short answer: Success!!!

I really did not know what to think going into The Last Colony. The events of the previous two novels, in which we got to know and love John Perry and Jane Sagan, left readers with the idea that this third novel would see the characters reunited post-military service. For a series of books predicated on humanity's ongoing wars with multiple alien races, the idea of these two characters living a tranquil life of 'happily ever after', though appealing, did not seem like it would make for a book that fit in with the previous two. I need not have been worried.

The Last Colony admittedly starts a bit slow, with Perry and Sagan adjusting to their lives as civil servants in an agricultural village on the planet Huckleberry. In this case, slow turns out not to be a bad thing. Early on in the story John Perry lets on to you, the reader, that this planet is the next one that he is about to leave behind. Events plod along, as you would expect in a farming community, until Perry and Sagan are given an offer they cannot refuse: they are asked to be the leaders of a seed colony on a brand new world. After all that they have been through this sounds simple enough. Plans are made, colonists are chosen, supplies are packed, and the moment of take off arrives with much pomp and circumstance. The count down commences...and then things get very, very interesting.

As in Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, political intrigue and deception are at the heart of the action in The Last Colony. Despite there being more time devoted to the characters in this book, there is no shortage of action and suspense. John Scalzi times the beats perfectly once again, with twists and turns in the plot arriving just in the nick of time to keep the reader turning page after page to find out just what will happen. After working slowly through the first 70 pages (mostly because of multiple reading/life commitments), I literally tore through the last 200+ pages in a reading frenzy...I was so hooked into what was happening with Perry and Sagan that I could not bear to put the book down.

John Scalzi freely admits that these books are not meant to be deep philosophical works of science fiction. They are adventure stories set in space, homages to some of the more well-known works of sci-fi. They are meant to be fun and entertaining. And they succeed at this marvelously. What gives them resonance for me is that, despite their humble mission of entertaining, there is something deeper stirring under the surface, something tangible that tells me that these books, like the Stainless Steel Rat books of Harry Harrison, will be ones that I treasure for years to come.

I really, really enjoyed this science fiction trilogy. As I suspected, once I turned that last page, I was not only thrilled with the way that John Scalzi ended this series, I was very sad that it was over. In the very touching acknowlegements at the end of the book John Scalzi confirms "with this book we've reached the end of our journeys with John Perry and Jane Sagan. I like to think they go on. But they go on without us."

I closed the book last night, walked out onto my back porch and gazed at a cloud free sky, the sliver of the moon shining so brightly that you could see the whole of the disk outlined against the darkness. Venus was glowing brightly just below and to the right of the moon. I stood there in the warm spring air and just smiled and wondered...thank you, John Scalzi, for bringing a fresh sense of awe into my space-geek heart.


Fence said...

I really must try some Scalzi at some point, but I've never seen his books in the shops.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I'm hard pressed as to whether I would recommend Old Man's War or The Androids Dream as a starting spot. If you like caper style science fiction you should probably start with Androids. It is a self-contained novel whereas the other is the first of a trilogy and it is probably his best written book.

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed the first two books in this series and I can't wait to enjoy the conclusion. Thanks for the great review!

Jeff S. said...

I said as this I bought this book back in May but just got a round to reaidng it last week. I really enjoyed it. Not quiet as much as the first two books in the series but still I was more than happy with the story by the end. The sytle in this book is much slower than the first two books in the series but in retrospect I think it really served this story better. I will miss the adventures of John and Jane but I'm eargerly looking forward to Zoe's Tale this fall. Thanks for the review!