Sunday, May 20, 2012

What We’re Reading: The Last Colony by John Scalzi

What if you were attempting to settle a colony on an alien planet—a complete unknown, without the customary surveys (geological and otherwise) to inform and guide your decisions as you homestead? And what if you were faced not only with those challenges, but you also knew that several alien races would actively attempt to destroy the colony at the first possible opportunity? These are some of the issues explored in The Last Colony, by John Scalzi.

Former Colonial Defense Forces officer John Perry and his wife, former Special Forces officer Jane Sagan, have been chosen, along with their adopted daughter Zoe, to lead a new colony for the Colonial Union. This colony will be unique in two significant ways:

1) it is the first colony that comprises settlers from existing CU colonies, rather than being recruited from Earth;

2) this is the first CU colony to be established after a group of alien races, that call themselves The Conclave, decreed that no non-Conclave races may establish new colonies beyond the ones predating The Conclave. Any new colonies discovered after this decree will be immediately and savagely destroyed.

Colonization is a difficult enough prospect on an alien world. In the case of the aptly named Roanoke Colony (named for the 16th-century British colony that mysteriously disappeared and whose fate has never been determined), Perry and Sagan find that nothing is what they agreed to when they accepted the positions of Colony Administrators. Trusted sources turn out to be treacherous, and assistance comes from the most unlikely places. Only by working together and picking their way through a minefield of misinformation and deceit will the Perry and Sagan be able to keep the colonists of Roanoke (and their daughter) safe.

The Last Colony is the third book in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. Unlike the first two books, The Last Colony is primarily set outside the military operations of the CDF and Special Forces, although those organizations, along with the Colonial Union, exert pressures on the colony (and the plot). Scalzi deftly walks the line between giving readers a sense of the activities required for developing a settlement without bogging them down in the minutia of daily living. The result is a nice impression of both the difficulties and rewards that come from making the effort to tame a world and make it your home. The political wrangling over the Roanoke Colony and its effects on the colony is, sadly, all too believable. Scalzi depicts an almost unimaginably large interstellar governmental body so preoccupied with galactic-level issues that it is no longer concerned with groups of people who number in the thousands, let alone with individuals. The author again offers a warning, as he did in The Ghost Brigade, about the dangers of blind obedience to governments and/or superior officers. The story is a bit slow to start, as Scalzi lays the foundation for a very different book from the others in the series, but once the story reaches critical mass, it moves swiftly through to a satisfying conclusion.

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