Tuesday, September 05, 2017

John Scalzi's Universe

For background on this post, please see my review of the first book in this series, Old Man's War, here. Then the rest of these reviews will make sense!

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2)

In Old Man's War, we met the soldiers of the Colonial Defense Forces, with the experience of the elderly (all of them had to be 75 years old to be recruited from Earth to serve in the CDF), but with the youthful bodies of the extremely healthy and buff (with some added enhancements). In this book, we find out more about the hidden elite force within that already specialized intergalactic army, known as the Ghost Brigades. They are the Special Forces, created from the DNA of the dead, and without the inhibitions of regular soldiers, because they are initially created without consciousness, fully grown and ready to rumble. They all look like they're about 20 years old, but their personalities are infants taking form even as their bodies are operating as grown-ups.

The universe is about to become even more dangerous for humans than it already was, partly due to the traitorous behavior of military scientist Charles Boutin, who seems to be selling out the CDF to the alien enemy. In a desperate bid to find out what Boutin is up to, the CDF creates a new enhanced human, using the same methods they do for the Special Forces, but using Boutin's DNA, hoping to access his memories. But when the memory transplant experiment appears to fail, Jared Dirac is given to the Ghost Brigades...

This was an excellent sequel to Old Man's War. Fun, fast-paced, tightly plotted, with a nice mix of serious contemplation and silly humor. I particularly liked the gradual development of the "consciousness" of Jared Dirac. It departs from the saga of John Perry in the first book, but it all ties together later, as you will see...

The Last Colony (Old Man's War, #3)

When this book starts, John Perry and his wife, former Special Forces fighter Jane Sagan, have settled, with their adopted daughter, Zoe Boutin, into a pleasant and innocuous everyday routine on the human colony at Huckleberry. Then the political connections of their past involve them in an ambitious plan to start a human colony on another planet, made up of settlers from all the major human worlds other than Earth (something that has never before been done). When they agreed to be the colony leaders, perhaps they should have reflected on the fact that the new world had been christened Roanoke...

This was so ingenious, and such a great ending to the trilogy. There are plots within plans with schemes that the reader gets to discover along with the protagonists, and just when things seem pretty dire, a dash of Scalzi's snarky humor lightens the mood.

Zoe's Tale (Old Man's War, #4)   

Just when you thought the Old Man's War saga was over, Scalzi decided to re-tell the events of the last book from Zoe Boutin's viewpoint. Zoe was the daughter of the traitor Charles Boutin, and she was presumed dead for a few years but was actually preserved and cared for by the Obin, an alien race that revered her father for giving them the gift of consciousness (it's a long story). After the loss of her father at a young age, Zoe was adopted by John Perry and Jane Sagan, and during the events of The Last Colony and Zoe's Tale, she is a teenager.

Frankly, I didn't see the need to re-tell the whole story from Zoe's point of view. It was entertaining hearing about the same events from a YA perspective...but I didn't feel there was enough new content to distinguish it from the other book—one somewhat important incident early on, and the close-to-final climactic scene with the Obin, which were both great, but...the rest was all the same. And she was such a mature, responsible teenager that it was mostly not that different. Not a bad book, just...unnecessary.

The Human Division (Old Man's War, #5)

Well...I bogged down about halfway through and wondered if I really wanted to finish this book. It's not that it's bad, it's just that I have a particular quirk: I don't like short stories. This book is written as a series of "episodes," strung together, and while there was some continuity, if I'm going to spend time reading, I want something substantial, with characters and a story line that travels throughout, not a bunch of vignettes.

I did, however, finish it, and in much better charity with it than I was feeling in that boggy place in the middle, because Scalzi saved the best stories for last; in fact, I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to discover the fate of Space Station Earth. So I take back the "meh," but I'm sticking with the complaint that I don't like to be fooled into reading short stories when I'm expecting a novel!

The End of All Things (Old Man's War, #6)   

The stand-off continues between the Colonial Union, the people of Earth, and the alien Conclave. The Colonial Union tricked the people of Earth, the people of Earth are contemplating joining the alien Conclave, and somewhere there is a nebulous fourth group, ducking around behind the scenes and making the Colonial Union think that the Conclave is attacking their ships while causing the Conclave to believe that the Colonial Union is doing the same to them! Trust is in short supply, diplomats on all sides are tearing out their hair (or whatever equivalent gesture aliens prefer in times of stress, depending on their make-up), and if it's not resolved, it may be the end of all things for the humans.

This, like the last book, was serialized, but instead of many episodes, there were just four longer novellas. It worked better for me (than did The Human Division), and also worked well for the story, since there are four major viewpoints represented by the various organizations. In particular, it was interesting how the diplomats from each group managed to figure out, amidst apparently unsolvable crises, how to proceed to an ending to which everyone could, in theory, agree.

Of course, Scalzi did call this book "The End of All Things," which implies both the (potential) end of humans and also the end of the story. I wonder if that's true? After all, in the beginning he did say it was a trilogy...

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