After struggling through the last couple of books, I return to the third book in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series and hopefully things will get back to normal. As I said in my review of The Ghost Brigades, one of the things that disappointed me in that book was the lack of John Perry, the hero from the first book who had gone completely missing in the second. Well, he’s back and every bit as enjoyable as he started and that’s a good thing. While this isn’t the last story told in the Old Man’s War universe, it is the last with John and Jane so let’s go take a look at their send off as we examine The Last Colony.
John and Jane and their adopted daughter Zoe have spent the last several years, back in civilian bodies, living on the colony world of Huckleberry. When John’s old friend visits and asks them to lead a new colony, they agree, but that’s where the real intrigue starts. They are taken to the wrong planet and dumped there unceremoniously. They are told that they are being hunted by the newly formed Conclave, a confederation of more than 400 alien races which have outlawed non-members from colonizing new worlds. The Colonial Union hangs them out to dry and it’s up to our small ragtag group to survive the onslaught and maybe to save humanity itself.
As I said in my last review, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Jane. It isn’t that I dislike her but she lacks John’s humanity and that’s important. He adds something significant to the story that she simply does not, but together, they make an amazing team that is more than the sum of their parts. A large part of this story is about secrets and who can tell what to whom when. The flow of information is actually an important consideration to how the tale plays out, more so than the military action in both of the first two books. In fact, there really isn’t a lot of action in this book, there’s only one sequence toward the end, but it doesn’t really matter because this isn’t a book about action, but about consequences. It’s also about thinking outside of the box, of being backed into the corner and finding ways to not only survive but thrive.
Now John Scalzi has already said that this is the last appearance of the Perry family, kind of, and while I can probably think of ways to bring them back, after all, they are all relatively young biologically, even though John is 90 in real time, I probably agree that they’ve gone out on a high note and there’s no real need to bring them back. That doesn’t mean Scalzi can’t keep writing in the universe, I really like the universe he’s created and there’s a lot more we just don’t know, especially with the mysterious Consu, who seemingly have their tendrils in everything.
Maybe the most interesting part of the Old Man’s War series is that each book is distinctly different. The first book is all military action. The second is mostly political intrigue. The third is a lot of spycraft and survival horror. Yet each book feels completely natural, like it belongs the way that it is and I find that fascinating. However, that doesn’t make this book perfect, in fact, there is one major plot point that gets completely derailed and dropped half way through, the colony has been attacked by primitive four-eyed wolf-like creatures, but after the first violent encounter, they are pretty much dropped from the story. John mentions them once in passing at the very end, but there is never a real resolution to the plot thread. They also have coyote-like creatures running around that are mentioned as pests that go after the colony’s livestock, but likewise, they never really resolve the idea when we go off to the Conclave trying to kill them. I understand why, this is the place in the book where he switches gears from the colony-building story to the death-from-the-sky story, but honestly, I think he could have gotten two whole books out of this, focusing on building the Roanoke colony in the first and the invasion in the second. After all, how better to get personally invested in the survival of the colony if we get to watch it grow? Most of the characters aren’t really fleshed out and I never much cared if the colony lived or died, but had there been a second book that went into the political fight against the Colonial Union and the war against the Conclave, it might have meant more to the reader.
In any case, this was a great finale to the Perry storyline, at least for John and Jane. Zoe comes back in the next book, which I’ll review sometime, and there is a Jane short story that he does elsewhere, but I can say I’m going to miss John, he was really the heart and soul of the series and he’ll be pretty hard to replace. If you’re reading this review and want to get into the story, don’t start here. Go back and read the original two books first, you’ll thank me.