John Scalzi’s The Last Colony completes the trilogy begun by his award-winning Old Man’s War. In this book, we return to John Perry’s 1st person perspective, which is quite nice, since that’s where the story began.
The Last Colony finds Perry married to Jane Sagan, the former Special Forces soldier, and living on a newish colony. They have adopted Zoe Boutin, the little girl from Ghost Brigades and they are working as the administrators etc. of the colony where they live. Living with them are two Obin, Hickory and Dickory, who are essentially bodyguards for Zoe due to the fact that her biological father gave the Obin consciousness and they revere Zoe like a goddess. Perry and Sagan’s life is good and things feel more or less like home. More or less. Remember that these two are privy to some of the more secret knowledge that the Colonial Union has seen fit to keep from the rest of humanity.
John and Jane are approached and asked to head up a new colony on a planet called Roanoke. If you know the story of the historical Roanoke, you can be sure that Scalzi did not just pull this name out of a hat. This new colony, they are told, is an attempt to satisfy some political machinations as well as avoid the notice of the Conclave, a union of multiple alien peoples.
The problem is that John and Jane are not given all of the information, and as the story unfolds, it becomes clear to them that they and the colonists in their charge are being used as tools by the Colonial Union. With the Conclave presented as the apparent baddy, the Colonial Union as the secretive and murky but more or less good guys, and the colonists at the center of a nasty conflict, the story trucks along just fine.
Scalzi does a nice job showing how colonies in his world work. A nice twist comes when the colonists must depend on Mennonites and their particular skill set to survive their first year. The colonists are real people and Scalzi is at his best fleshing out these people and letting a nice brew boil as motivations and goals come into conflict. The conflicts between the colonists feel authentic and are very compelling.
But then along comes the question: Who’s really the bad guy? And another question: Just how far is the Colonial Union willing to go to protect its interests? And then: Will the Conclave wage total war on humanity now? And then: Exactly how are the colonists of Roanoke, with John and Jane at the helm, going to get out of their nasty fix?
Scalzi’s a smart guy. It’s quite nice when the end of a book has action that is more than just shooting and explosions but has the winners coming out ahead because of intelligence, creativity, and compassion. This book ends not unpredictably, but in a very satisfying manner, the story that Scalzi began with Old Man’s War.
I felt that the one area that needed work was (spoiler alert!) the discovery of indigenous intelligent life on the planet of Roanoke. This was treated briefly, but then seemed to be forgotten.
All in all, however, the book is excellent. Engaging as always and startling in its robust world and fascinating characters and aliens. And all that combined with a keen eye for deeper questions and true humanity. Solid stuff, my friends.
I give it 5 out of 5 pens.