The Last Colony by John Scalzi
The third book in the Old Men’s War Series by John Scalzi brings back beloved characters, notably John Parry, who made the first book such an enjoyable experience. He’s not lost his humor while getting shot at in the wars of the CDF, but it comes through much less than in the first book. The whole story is darker than before, which should come as no surprise. The Conclave went through and humanity stands at the brink of extinction. Or so you might think.
John and Jane are finally married and adopted Zoe, living together in a small farming community. At least until an old friend from the CDF comes calling, asking them to take on a new adventure: to be the heads of a newly formed colony, this time not with colonists from earth, but with people from the other major colonies.
But the new task isn’t as easy as it seems at the beginning. While news about the Conclave is withheld by the CDF, the coalition of over 400 alien races has forbidden anyone else to colonize, and they meet anyone who breaks this rule with overwhelming force. The CDF, of course, won’t stand for such a thread to humanity’s prosperity and a conflict is inevitable, with the newly formed colony of Roanoke at its center.
As with the last book, the characters and the reader get a more diverse look at the CDF. The CDF finally shows its real face, an uncaring behemoth headed by soulless people only interested in their own goals and well-being. If this doesn’t fit with the needs of a few thousand people, they don’t care. They are set in their ways, seeing the whole universe as their enemy and their own troops and colonists as expendable. Not something I’d like to have as the “last line of defense” for humanity.
Our heroes learn more about the unscrupulous ways of the CDF as they are trapped between all fronts and on their own. As soon as their role has been played, they are deemed expendable, and it’s on John to find a way to wriggle himself and his colonists free from the looming destruction.
The experience we readers have gathered over the last through books comes in handy here. I’d been looking at the CDF very closely and you could already see more than just a few signs that they were not the “good guys” set to save humanity. The characters come to the same realization here. Alien’s aren’t all bend on the destruction of humanity and the only way to survive in this universe might not lie in exterminating every other species, but rather in working together.
I quite liked the short look at colonization and then the struggle to stay alive, but it’s not extensive enough for my tastes. The story’s much less martial than the other two books, but has its big share of deaths nonetheless. This universe can’t seem to go on without thousands dying every other day. The reunion with John and his new family is joyful and I’ve loved seeing their relation to each other, though his relation to his wife seems strangely muted. Zoe as a kinda new character worked well. She has her own role to play. It comes in handy that she’s a de facto demigod to the Obin and her actions are elemental to the survival of the colony. I’d have liked to follow her path a bit more closely, but you can’t have everything.
Concluding: No-brainer for anyone following the series. It’s a more story heavy book than the first two, as the whole universe is in flux. Who the antagonists in this book are isn’t easily visible and it takes a while before the whole picture becomes clear. I liked the book a lot especially because it shows us that the universe might be deadly and dangerous, but not unforgiving. The book culminates into an ending that makes me want to read on. I’m keen to know what happens next. How will John’s decisions and actions shape the universe from this point on?