Monday, 31 May 2010

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

Lowdown: John Perry leads a new human colony through galactic turmoil.
The Last Colony is John Scalzi’s third visit to the world he has created in Old Man’s War and followed up in The Ghost Brigades. Meant to close the series off, The Last Colony has since failed with two more books added to the Old Man’s War world: Zoe’s Tale and Sagan Diaries.
Set immediately where The Ghost Brigades left us, The Last Colony takes us back to the first book’s format and tells things in first person from the very cynical John Perry’s mouth. This old man whom we followed through numerous battles with various alien species in the first book is now a retired diplomat (of sorts) living with his new/old wife, Jane Sagan, and their adopted daughter Zoe.
Perry is offered a new challenge: to lead a group made of humanity’s various colonies and establish a brand new colony on a planet handed over as a gift from a certain alien species in debt to humanity for the gift of consciousness. At first Perry has to fend off political challenges from other humans in the colony aspiring for leadership; then he has to deal with the planet’s natives; but quickly enough Scalzi makes us forget and neglect these locals in favor of a major galaxy level scheme featuring Perry in a starring role and putting the whole of humanity on a path to extinction. Will Perry rise up to the challenge, again?
At the core of The Last Colony is a discussion involving some interesting and relevant ethical issues, many to do with information disclosure vs. secrecy but generally all to do with with determining what an individual should do when questions concerning the trade off of society's cost/benefit analysis arise. Yet while still intriguing and thrilling, The Last Colony is definitely not as good as its two predecessors. For a start, it’s just not as much of a page turner as before, a lot of which is to do with this reader’s familiarity with the format. A lot of it is also to do with Scalzi using the cheap trick of building up cliff-hangers only to stop at the peak and continue the next chapter way after the crisis has been resolved.
Indeed, sequel fatigue seems to have hit more than Scalzi’s creativity. Whereas Ghost Brigades was a decent standalone book that just happened to take place in Old Man’s War’s universe, The Last Colony relies way too heavily on the reader knowing what happened earlier. If anything, and by Scalzi’s own admission in the book’s closing notes, The Last Colony was there primarily to close things off.
While reading The Last Colony I seemed to have been suffering more than just Old Man’s War world fatigue; I was suffering Scalzi fatigue, too. Between reading the series’ predecessors and between regularly reading Scalzi’s blog I sort of got the hang of Scalzi’s writing, so much so that I am tired of his repeated motifs. I’m tired of him shaping up his characters to be like him and his role model family, and I’m tired of the manifestation of his political opinions in his books (Scalzi is an American left winger that, by his own admission – and I agree with him – European standards would label to the right of center). Most of all, I’m tired of his apologetic attitude towards religion, on one hand being agnostic while on the other hand admiring religion. None of the above is a crime and all are justifiable some of the time, but after reading three books fisting the same values down your throat you’d be allowed to feel some tiredness.
Overall: All in all, The Last Colony provides nice closure to the series. At 3 out of 5 stars, its main problem is to do with this construct called "the trilogy" that is so badly favored by contemporary publishers.

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