by John Scalzi



320pp/$23.95/May 2007

The Last Colony
Cover by John Harris

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Last Colony is the third novel in John Scalziís universe that began with Old Manís War.  John Perry is now retired from the military and living with his new wife, Jane Sagan, and their adopted daughter, ZoŽ, on the colony world of Huckleberry. Although Perry and Sagan appear to be living a rather calm and idyllic life with an occasional minor controversy, their life is about to change with the arrival of General Rybecki, who asks Perry and Sagan to become governors of a new colony.

Of course, if everything worked out as presented to Perry and Sagan, Scalziís novel would have simply been a planetary exploration novel, likely entertaining, but also something which has been done by numerous authors (both well and poorly) over the years.  However, Scalzi has something else in mind and things quickly begin to go wrong, not just for Perry and Sagan and the other colonists, but also for the crew of the ship ferrying them to the colony.

Although the story works well as a survival tale on an uncharted planet, even that isnít Scalziís point as he drops a variety and increasing number of complications, from ambitious colonists, to the appearance of carnivorous indigenous inhabitants, to aliens, to bureaucrats.  Perry and Sagan must deal with everything Scalzi, and the universe, deigns to throw at them and it is to Scalziís credit that they do so in an entertaining manner.

The Last Colony is, at its heart, a space opera, although it contains some of the trappings of military science fiction and planetary romance.  It is, in many ways, reminiscent of Robert Heinleinís Tunnel in the Sky, although with a more modern sensibility. Scalziís characters work because, whether they are the protagonist or support characters like Perryís aide Savitri Guntupalli or leader of the opposition Manfred Trujillo, they are larger than life, although never caricatures. The reader cares about them and wants to see them succeed, even the annoying Chengelpet brothers deserve a modicum of success.

The world on which Perry and Sagan find themselves is also just as interesting as the characters. Part of this is because Scalzi is careful to hint at interesting features of his world, but never give away too much information.  Roanoke remains a mystery even as the colonists learn about their planet and about each other.  Scalzi could easily write a novel in which the characters explore their new world, but his book, looking at how they deal with their own governmentís deception, is much more interesting and innovative.

John Scalzi has created an interesting universe filled with complex characters who resonate in their familiarity while maintaining epic proportions above those of mortal men (and women).  In addition to the political and survival concerns (neither of which ever overwhelms the narrative), Scalzi infuses the novel with a sense of humor which is constant, but never over-shadowing.

Although the third novel in a series, knowledge of the first two books is not necessary for enjoyment of The Last Colony, although reading those will add greater depth of Perry and Saganís actions.  For those who have already read those books, Scalzi has additional books set in this world, focusing more on Sagan and Perryís adopted daughter, so fortunately, more adventures lay ahead.

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