The Last Colony

June 1st, 2008
This entry is part [part not set] of 2 in the series Old Man's War

After an aborted hope to go last year, I will be attending Worldcon this year for the first time, and as a member of the convention will be voting on who receives this year’s Hugo Awards, something I consider an honor and a privilege.  The Last Colony is the first of the nominated novels that I read, and I will endeavor to keep reviewing them as I read them. You may remember I was very impressed with Scalzi’s first major book on the scene, Old Man’s War. I never managed to dig its sequel, The Ghost Brigades, out of my booklog backlog for a proper review, but it was a worthy successor, and I’d be hard pressed to point a finger at which of them I enjoyed more.  The events of The Last Colony pick up a few years down the road from The Ghost Brigades, finding our heroes Perry and Sagan (and their adopted daughter) happily settled into a mostly quiet life as minor officials in a small agrarian colonial community.  Suddenly they receive a visit from the Colonial Union military that they had thought they were done with, but they weren’t looking for more military service from the two former soldiers, they were looking for them to be the leaders of a new world. See, all of the human colonies thus far had been initially populated exclusively by former residents of Earth.  The oldest and most established colonies, however, were now clamoring that their residents should be allowed to colonize new worlds also.  The compromise the colonial governments and the over-ruling Colonial Union reached was that a new colonial expedition would be assembled from several different colonial worlds, with independent, impartial oversight.  Perry and Sagan were picked to be that oversight, and from the beginning it was plain to see that theirs was not going to be like any normal colony, indications that were confirmed when the FTL “jump” to their new world turned out to have a completely different world waiting at its end than what they’d been told to expect. What they hadn’t been told, what none of the colonists had been told, was that there was a new intergalactic political force on the scene forbidding the founding of any new colonies without their consent, and that the Human Colonial Union was deliberately breaking this edict with the foundation of this colony…a transgression punishable by the complete annihilation of all the colonists.  If they had any hope of surviving, it must be believed by the outside world that they somehow died before reaching their new world, which meant that they would have to forgo the use of any modern equipment that might emit detectable signals. All in all, this book is a dramatic departure from the two books that came before it.  It’s more political and less military and action-oriented.  It’s also, unfortunately, just not as innovative as those books were, either.  It was societal and military innovations, as realized through a few key technologies Scalzi created for his universe, that made Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades so compelling and refreshing.  They took a genre that is often ridiculed as pulp and made it into something worth thinking about without losing the excitement that makes that genre such a successful one.  The Last Colony does nothing wrong; in terms of prose and characterization it’s almost certainly Scalzi’s best work yet, but it doesn’t really do anything particularly exciting, either.  It is a perfectly polished exemplar of genre fiction that I am happy to have on my shelf and will almost certainly reread for the pleasure of a story well told, but polish is not the same thing as impact.  I recommend this book…but I don’t expect it to get my Hugo vote.

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