I have to admit I was a bit excited to finally get to read The Last Colony. Old Man’s War was a great scifi novel and The Ghost Brigades was only a notch below it, in my opinion, so when I opened this one up, I had really high expectations – expectations that were not met by this novel, unfortunately. Oh, it was still an enjoyable read, just not the military extravaganza I was expecting.
The Last Colony opens with John Perry and his wife, Jane, living a relatively normal and boring life on a small, farming colony. The only thing that breaks up the monotony is settling quarrels between farmers and the snarky conversations with their adopted daughter Zoe, who is followed around by her two Obin bodyguards, Hickory and Dickory. Naturally, however, things are about to change and quickly.
One day, out of nowhere, an old military commander of John Perry shows up and extends a unique opportunity to him and Jane: become the leaders of a new, human colony to be built on the planet dubbed Roanoke. Along with their daughter and her bodyguards, they would be shepherding two thousand five hundred colonists chosen from ten of the human colonial worlds, something that has never happened before. And due to the political nature of this new colony, the Colonial Union needs some non-political people to head up Roanoke; a fact which led the CU search committee to Jane and John, who seem like great candidates with their military backgrounds and John’s experience as a colonial war hero.
Naturally, Jane and John are suspicious. Having been Colonial Union soldiers, they know through first hand experience how thoroughly devious the CU can be, and how the CU is more than willing to sacrifice anyone to further their secretive plans to expand the reach of Humanity in the stars. But being assured everything is on the up and up (as well as John and Zoe wanting to add some excitement to their dull life) the family agrees to take the jobs.
Do I need to even say what happens next?
Yeah, John and Jane immediately begin to suspect they were lied to. Things do not add up about Roanoke, and inevitable, the mission takes an unexpected turn for the worst – at least from John and Jane’s perspective. The Colonial Union is shown to have been deceiving everyone – about pretty much everything including its promises that the colony would not cause issues with The Conclave (an alliance of alien races determined to stop interstellar warfare by controlling colonization.) In fact, even the name of Roanoke turns out not to be for commemorative purposes but rather a dark joke. And it seems that John and Jane are going to need all their military expertise and more than a little luck to escape the political machinations of the CU and its enemies and keep from dying on this primitive, already inhabited, colonial world!
I really wish that I could say that this was a fitting ending to the Old Man’s War trilogy, but I can’t, because The Last Colony is not up to the level of its predecessors (which were two of the best military science fiction that I’ve ever read.) Where Old Man’s War introduced readers to a harsh universe where humanity turns its soldiers into genetically modified, green-skinned supermen to defend against all the nasty alien races waiting to devour humanity and The Ghost Brigades masterfully touched upon the idea of “How can a race be morally correct in destroying another species to save itself,” this novel reads like a show on the Scyfy channel about a lone man outwitting an entire galaxy. Or to put it another way, Perry-nado!
Honestly, I don’t like writing the above, because I really liked John Perry and Jane Sagan in the prior novels, but this time Mr. Scalzi turned them into overpowered caricatures of themselves. Jane becomes a near-invulnerable character, who always knows best, can kill practically anything or anyone on a whim, and is even able to read minds. (No, I’m not making that last part up.) John Perry, on the other hand, is his normal sarcastic self, but this time he is able to outwit, outplay, and outlast (Yeah, I stole that from the Survivor television series) every diplomat, soldier, and politician in the Colonial Union and the Conclave. Even teenager Zoe and her two, Obin bodyguards somehow are imbued with the innate abilities needed to help change the course of interstellar history.
And as for our heroes’ enemies, they are one-dimensional caricatures without any real depth. On one hand, there is a galactic leader who is so good, so honest that he looks like he stepped directly out of a Disney channel cartoon, continually espoused interspecies brotherly love and immediately believes anything John Perry says, because, I mean, it’s John Perry so you have to believe him after a five minute conversation, right? And the other villains are the exact opposites: evil 100%. All their motives are self-serving, obviously hiding a desire to cause mass genocide, and their refusal to join the interstellar love in is absolutely ridiculous without any merit.
I wish I could say that the secondary characters were more interesting, but Mr. Scalzi didn’t really spend much time developing them. Even the most visible members of the Roanoke colony is introduced, described and never developed from that point forward. It was like they were just there for John, Jane, and Zoe to have someone to make sarcastic remarks to or to save.
Added to these somewhat lacking characters, Mr. Scalzi throws into the mix some good, old deus ex machina plot lines to help John and Jane out with their plan to outfox the entire universe, machinas that are the only things standing between certain death for the Roanoke colony and certain defeat for John’s plan to transform the galaxy.
Now, I could also mention how certain plot lines were built up in the narrative until they seemed of paramount importance only to POOF! disappear without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. But I won’t do that, because obviously they weren’t that important. If they were, Mr. Scalzi would have actually finished the plot line, wouldn’t he?
Now, does all that mean this novel isn’t worth reading?
Absolutely not, The Last Colony is entertaining enough. Mr. Scalzi’s still finds time to somewhat explore the logic of an imperialistic state; the constant banter and sarcasm of John Perry, Jane, and Zoe are still humorous; most of the plot lines are wrapped up by the conclusion of the novel; and the main characters generally have happy endings. Honestly, this is the perfect “Hollywood-ending” for the Old Man’s War trilogy, and if that sort of straightforward story is to your liking then you should give this novel a go. But if you are expecting a gritty, military story like the previous novels in the series, then it might be best if you skipped this one.