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John Scalzi

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Title: The Last Colony
Author: John Scalzi
Year: 2007

The story from Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades continues, but even as it does, the focus is yet again different and The Last Colony is not simply a sequel (I think it could be read independently, but I would advise against it). Even as it is a further development of Scalzi’s universe, it also brings it to an end in that he states that this is the last book in the series. These three books have been an interesting foray into the works of an author previously unknown to me, but I think it is enough for now.

The Last Colony takes its name from the basic story: Perry and Sagan are convinced to take their adopted daughter and become the leaders of a new colony, the first second generation one in human history (meaning that it doesn’t use resources from Earth, but from other colonies). However, as is always the case in this series, nothing is that simple. The colony is part of an integral plan and a game of high politics that has little or nothing to do with actual colonisation. The stakes are high: survival of mankind.

In this novel, I fail to see something new. The good bits are still pretty good, and the bad bits are still bad. I can’t say that Scalzi has evolved as an author or that this book is superior to its predecessors. Actually, as the grade implies, I’d like to argue the other way around. The fact that few new, brilliant ideas or presented together with a feeling that the story lacks focus forces me to give The Last Colony the lowest grade of the three. Perhaps I should reconsider and recommend people to read only this novel and skip the first two, but, alas, it’s impossible for me to judge what kind of effects such a reading order would have on the experience.

Scalzi was nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel for Old Man’s War and The Last Colony, but he ultimately lost to other works, namely Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Since I’ve now read all Hugo Award winners except one, I feel that I’m in a position to approve of these results. It would have been a shame if Chabon lost, and even though Spin is not a great work of fiction, it’s still qualitatively better than The Last Colony.

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Title: The Ghost Brigades
Author: John Scalzi
Year: 2006

Since I liked most of what I saw in the prequel to this book, Old Man’s War, I decided to continue with the series. The second book, The Ghost Brigades, uses a quite different chronology than the first book, although Jane Sagan is still one of the main characters. This time, a human scientist, expert on the brain pal (the computer enhancing the Colonial Forces’ natural brains) , has gone renegade and betrayed humanity to a triple alliance of hostile aliens who are planning a war of extinction on mankind. To get closer to this traitor and understand how he works, the military leaders of the Colonial Union decide to clone his body and imprint his mind on a new consciousness. The result is somewhat ambiguous. Of the new person thus created, how much is from the mind of the traitor and how much is formed by new experiences? To what extent is personality and identity a function of memory? In addition to this, there are further questions going to the core of the Colonial Union. Is the universe really so hostile as they proclaim it to be, or is there a truly rational and cogent argument why one should betray the union? Identity, choice and the latter’s implications on the former lie at the heart of this novel.

Even though the setup is nice and the book almost stands alone (however, I do recommend reading Old Man’s War first), the frequency of new, interesting things is simply lower than in its predecessor. Most of what was good in the first novel is good also in this, but there’s not much new. Also, I’ve begun to become irritated at some of the author’s bad habits, such as an exaggerated use of “she said” or “he said” in dialogues. I don’t need Stephen King’s On Writing to tell me that this is not only unnecessary, but outright bad workmanship. Still, taken as a whole, it’s still a worthwhile read, only superseded by the first book by half a snail. This is nice. but I agree with the outcome of the last few year’s Hugo Award ceremonies, which nominated both books, but without giving any of them a Hugo. The third and last book, The Last Colony, was also nominated, and also didn’t win. Give me a few days to see if I agree with that, too.

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Title: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Year: 2005

Published in 2005, Old Man’s War is in its essence a follow-up to other science fiction war novels such as Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Ender’s Game (all which are mentioned in the novel itself). It’s similar to these in that it covers the training and life of soldiers in for an interstellar battlefield, and in doing so, tries to make a few points about war and humanity. Scalzi does this fairly differently, though, even though the similarities with Starship Troopers and The Forever War are pretty obvious.

John Perry is old, seventy five to be exact, and he has lost his wife to a heart attack. He has nothing to live for and old age is beginning to take its toll. Thus, he can see no reason not to enroll in the Colonial Defense Forces, which, after all, offers rejuvenation and, after a full term of service, a new life in one of the colonies. Of course, the propaganda of the recruitment division and the horrors of warfare against extra-terrestrial life are of course not the same thing. The sudden change for Perry as he leaves his familiar life on Earth to face a hostile universe is the main focus of this novel.

John Scalzi is adept at one thing, which is probably the major reason this book is pretty good. He knows what he shouldn’t include. Time and time again, I read passages where the author elegantly leaves out parts that would’ve been boring or that wouldn’t have added anything to the narrative. I often get the feeling that lesser authors would elongate these moments and drone on endlessly. Scalzi, on the other hand, deftly directs the flow of the story, focusing on what’s interesting and never lose this focus. As a result, Old Man’s War is exactly as long as it should be, a very sparsely populated category of books indeed.

In addition to this, there are some interesting ideas in this novel, some new thoughts on future technology and its implications for humanity. John Perry has to face serious questions about what it means to be human when everything around him, even his own body, changes beyond recognition. He also has to find his place in a universe much less friendly than it was supposed to be. Can there really be no alternative to war, is humankind bound to declare war on every single species we find, on or outside Earth?

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