Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Last Colony

Last night, I finished reading John Scalzi's third novel in his Colonial Defense Force series, The Last Colony. As some of you may recall, I was a big fan of The Ghost Brigades, which I only read recently as well. And though it took me until long after it had been published to read that one, I'm thrilled to have actually read The Last Colony pre-publication, and especially to have been able to read both works so close together, as events and characters from the middle book return in interesting ways in the finale.

(Hey, how does the busy editor find time to read another book, you ask? Well, I read about a third on the flight out to John & Traci Picacio's wedding, a third on the flight back, and the rest of it in fits and starts until giving it one late night yesterday.)

But back on the book, which - I won't hold you in suspense any longer - I thoroughly enjoyed: What Scalzi wisely does in this trilogy is that he introduces a very interesting future world in the first novel, veers off with some new characters for a deeper look at the workings of this world in book two, in which he pulls back the curtain a little bit on the darker side of his future's politics as well as raising some questions on the nature of identity, and then brings back the central character from the first novel - John Perry of Old Man's War - in a novel in which the political underpinnings of his universe are front and center. The complexity & moral ambiguity of the novels build with each one, though they all retain his very readable and distinctive narrative voice. I also think that I like each novel better than the one before, though it may be that I simply like returning to the universe of the Colonial Defense Force and am carrying my previous joy forwards and compounding it with new joy. Joy squared. Joy to the third power.

Now, some things of possible interest (possibly only to me) have occurred between my reading of Old Man's War and The Last Colony. One is that when I read Old Man's War, I hadn't a clue who Scalzi was. Since then, I've become a dedicated reader of his blog, Whatever (one of the few blogs I check every single day) and I've spent a good deal of time talking with John himself, both online and recently in person. Now, John's said many times that the character of Jane Sagan is based in part on his wife Krissy, no secret there. Add to this- minor spoiler coming up - the fact that his daughter Athena keeps popping up on Whatever in hysterical YouTube shorts like this, where she's seen by the myriad of John's readers, and it's hard not to see her as sharing certain similarities with the character of Zoe - minor spoiler now - who shares her life experiences with an entire devoted alien race. With the result that in my head as I read, John Perry, Jana Sagan and Zoe simply are John Scalzi (slightly taller), Krissy (slightly more indestructable) and Athena (slightly older, and, inexplicably, with shorter, darker hair). Now, nothing wrong with this, and of little relevance to most of the readers of these books - it just strikes me as interesting. I know a lot of writers and I read a lot of books, but none of them were ever the exact stand-ins for their characters in my mind before. (Certainly, I never conflated Chris Roberson with Akilina Chirikova, for example.) I found myself, towards the end when John Scalzi was saving the universe in a moment not un-reminiscent of the close of the fourth season of Babylon 5, wondering how I would have read this book if I'd never met John. I am sure my enjoyment and appreciate level would have been the same ("tremendous"), I just wonder what the lead character would have looked like. Perhaps a dashing, blue-eyed bald-headed man with two hoop earrings in the left lobe? Alas, I'll never know.

The other thing is that I read the manuscript for the third book in Mike Resnick's Starship series Starship: Mercenary (after the previous books Mutiny and Pirate) right between The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony. And I suddenly realized that I like both Scalzi and Resnick for very similar reasons. They both have a distinctive, easily-readable narrative voice. They both write a damn good story well told and peopled with interesting, likable characters. They are both reasonably quick reads (important for the busy editor). And, as I realized when I read Mercenary the week before Last Colony, they both have written military SF space operas that grow in complexity with each book. I definitely think my reading experience was enhanced by reading Last Colony on the heels of Mercenary. Unfortunately, since we won't be publishing till next December while The Last Colony is out next month, there isn't much you can do with that! Sorry, you'll have to wait.

But there you have it. Lou on The Last Colony. I came, I read, it kicked ass.

9 comments:

Jenny Rappaport said...

I agree with you, Lou. I had the same thoughts about the characters that you did, when I read the book in January, although I didn't really associate Athena with Zoe. But according to John, who I asked about it, Harry Wilson is more like him than any other character in the series.

Lou Anders said...

Athena didn't map onto Zoe as completely as the other two characters - it's just the fact of Athena sharing a part of her personality with the 20 - 60k Whatever readers and Zoe sharing all of her life with the Obin was too analogous a situation to ignore. I had a very different physical type in my mind for Zoe, and am trying to figure out if that is someone I know as well! Of course, none of this matters or affects my enjoyment of the book - which I really dug.

Tim Akers said...

I just finished OMW last week, and I'm looking forward to Ghost Brigades and Colony. I came to it in a different way, becoming familiar with Scalzi as Internet Phenomenon and all around good guy, and then reading him later on. What I'm curious about is, if Jane Sagan is based on his wife, who is Kathy Perry based on?

Lou Anders said...

Tim, if you finished OMW, you know the answer to that!

Tim Akers said...

Actually, I don't, not really. I mean, I know the literal, spoiler-riddled answer, but I think there are greater questions of identity that can be toyed around with there.

Anyway. The second Leon keeled over and the one tech said something about the Ghost Brigades, I started geeking out. HARD.

Shara Saunsaucie said...

I just read and finished OLD MAN'S WAR last week and absolutely loved it. I'm snatching up GHOST BRIGADES as soon as it comes out in paperback, and unfortunately, will have to wait a year for LAST COLONY. That's okay, though. :)

Good to hear that Mike Resnick's trilogy is similar in vein. I keep hoping the first will come out in paperback so I can try it out. Course, I guess I could make a trip to the library...

Lou Anders said...

Well, he explores just a little bit the relationship between Mrs Perry and Sagan in THE LAST COLONY - just a little bit. But THE GHOST BRIGADES does some interesting things with consciousness as well. I don't want to spoil it, but it isn't just transfering consciousness or overlaying consciousness. He finds a very interesting middle ground and shows us some evolving consciousness that I find intriguing. I mean, I'm very aware of the fact that I personally am not who I was 20 or even 10 years ago, but he uses some SF to literalize this concept and explore it further.

Lou Anders said...

Hey Shara,
I will be very eager to hear your opinion of Ghost Brigades, and Last Colony when you get to it. I think John's made my very short list of authors that I have to read everything they do (China Mieville and Charles Stross - though he writes too fast for me to keep up - being the other two on this short list).

Jenny Rappaport said...

My short list of authors that I must read has a dispraportionate amount of historical romance authors on it, since their books are quick, easy, and fun to read between slush. It's like candy.

On the other hand, John is on the sci-fi and fantasy side of the list, along with Carrie Vaughn, George R. R. Martin, Naomi Novik, J. K. Rowling, and Holly Black. You could throw Libba Bray in there too, since her Victorian YA fantasy is addictive. That's just off the top of my head though. =)