May 10, 2007

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The Last Colony, by John Scalzi (Tor Books, 2007, 320 pages)
Reviewed by Glenn Given production@hippopress.com

John & Jane Perry (former 75-year-old military recruit and 16-year-old cloned super-soldier respectively) have settled quite comfortably into life administrating an outlying colony of the humankind with their adopted daughter Zöe (cloned daughter of the prior novels’ big baddie and quasi messiah for an alien species). All is normal.

Wait for it.

Until the CDF asks them to uproot and take lead in a super-secret colonization effort that is attempting to skirt the ire of a sort of intergalactic UN (except of course that this UN actually backs up its threats) by settling on a planet that maybe it ought not have. What ensues is not your standard pew pew pew lasers space battle, but instead is a charming tale of two smart, good people and the web of deceit, power and inter-stellar politics that tries to use them.

Scalzi has a knack for side-stepping the techno babble and reining in modern science-fiction’s proclivity to bamboozle the reader with insane-o high technology. Sure the universe of The Last Colony is complicated, rife with futuristic technology (neurally integrated computers, designer cloning and faster-than-light travel, not to mention space turtles that work for the CIA) but these elements are reveled with a casual hand. Not, in a lazy “I-can’t-be-bothered-to-explain-this” manner but with a simple explanation of the facts of the tech. Likewise his approach to alien species and environments is sparse, but in the best of ways. When the most detailed description you get is that the native species of a new planet “kind of resembles four-eyed werewolves” you have a wonderful opportunity to play with your interpretation.

It is this direct, and yet laid back, approach to the amazing that enables Scalzi to introduce plot twists without angering you or to enjoyably dribble out those inviting tidbits of imagery. Scalzi has an appealing respect for the everyday reader while packing enough invention into his world to nod in the hardcore sci-fi fan’s direction. He succeeds so well here because he strikes that balance between the revelatory emotion and interaction that best describes the human condition with the “what if?” scenarios that sci-fi provides. The Last Colony warmly closes the Perry story with respect and that hint of wonder that all good fiction contains. A