The Last Colony reads like it was written by the same John Scalzi who writes his blog, which is relaxed, humorous, and entertaining. In Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades, the prose tends to be stiff, the humor forced, and the story begins only after chapters and chapters of exposition, and is constantly brought to a halt by long philosophical arguments. The sections of really good stuff, such as where Jared Dirac comes alive, only reinforces my impression that the characters are deliberately subordinated to the ideas.
So with this book, we finally get the scenario promised at the end of both the previous books: Jane Sagan and John Perry have settled down with Zoe Boutin in a colony. They are even joined by Savriti, a wise-cracking sidekick who’s amusingly adept at taking Mr. War Hero down a peg. They’re happy, so naturally the Colonial Union recruits them to lead a colony. For absolutely no good reason.
The real reasons are quite secret and all bad. Don’t forget, the CU is evil. They have a plan to get around the embargo on colonization the other aliens are trying to impose, and John’s family are all pawns in the game. And pawns get sacrificed.
I like the middle of the book, where they are stranded on Roanoke (alarm bells, anyone?) and struggling to make the colony work. I like Trujillo, a politician whom John dislikes at first, but who turns out to be an agile triangulator and the Loyal Opposition. And then they find an aborginal intelligent species, who are scary as werewolves and twice as smart. By the halfway point, I was fully involved and looking forward to finishing the book.
But then John and company are cut loose from Roanoke and go skipping across the galaxy, trying to change the game. It’s a pretty good game, with plenty of deceit and double-crossing. With such a complicated scenario, there are several places where the book just has to step aside and give you a history lesson or an overview of the political situation. And you know what? If the story needs a passage of exposition, I’d much rather read a nice, clear article than listen to couple of characters jawbone about it.
But we never find out about the werewolfs.
Tomorrow: Still more complications.