Warning: spoilers below for the Old Manís War and The Ghost Brigades
In The Last Colony, John Scalzi wraps up his trilogy set in the Old Manís War universe, and itís a doozy. I wrote in my review of The Ghost Brigades that Scalzi had tied up the personal storyline of John Perry and Jane Sagan, but that some cosmos-shattering events had also been set up. Little did I know how Scalzi would do all this, as Perry and Sagan are the main characters in The Last Colony as well. But that's okay, because Scalzi gives us a satisfying conclusion that meets all expectations, both personal and galaxy-wide. And the ending is pretty cool, too.
John, Jane, and their adopted daughter, Zoe (the biological daughter of the villain in The Ghost Brigades), are living a quiet life on a human colony, trying to escape their military pasts. Neither one is green anymore (a characteristic of the genetically enhanced bodies that humans who join the military are given), and John has become a colony administrator. But their past starts to catch up to them when an old general friend asks the Perry family to head up a new colony, a secret one that's trying to circumvent the edict handed down by a new organization of aliens called "The Conclave," which has ruled that no non-members of the Conclave can colonize any additional worlds. But the colony of Roanoke may be a pawn in an even bigger test of wills between the Conclave and the Colonial Union, and the Perry family has to do their utmost to protect their charges from annihilation.
The Last Colony is characteristic of Scalzi's writing, with excellent, witty prose wrapped around some pretty serious topics. The events in the novel are extreme, with thousands of sentient beings dying (though hardly any actually "on screen") and major shifts happening across the galactic landscape. The idea of a "Conclave" trying to organize as many alien races as possible while putting a barrier around anybody who doesn't join is an interesting concept, and I enjoyed the intrigue between the CU and the Conclave. Perry's reaction to all this, and to being used by the CU, is also classic Scalzi, with Perry delivering cutting commentary and coming up with ingenious solutions to the problems he's presented with.
In fact, Scalzi's characterization of the regulars is even better than in the first two books. John and Jane are beautifully done, their love showing through in every conversation they have, even when it's about something official. In the opening scene, John and his assistant Savitri verbally spar with each other, lending readers the opportunity to discover the history between the two of them. Then, when we discover what Jane's doing on the colony, it's even funnier. The ending is as poignant as I've seen Scalzi get, with a wonderful conclusion to their two personal storylines that just feels right, even though it's turned Scalzi's universe upside-down.
Even the characterization of the more minor characters is great. Scalzi doesn't miss a step; all of them are as three-dimensional as needed for the story. The two Obin protecting their daughter, Hickory and Dickory, are suitably mysterious. When we find out about their strange behavioral code and why they do what they do, it makes them even more interesting. I loved the concept of a race that is gifted with sentience (in The Ghost Brigades) having to learn to deal with things like emotions and rational thought. Trujillo, the main antagonist on the Roanoke colony, seems a bit stereotypical at times, but he comes into his own and is much more than a mere foil for John and Jane. The only character who doesn't come off quite as well is Kranjic, the reporter. He's too much of a caricature, though even he gets some depth through Scalzi's storytelling - and he is involved in the funniest scene in the book.
There's really nothing wrong with this book other than those minor characterization issues mentioned above. Occasionally a joke falls a bit flat, but given the reactions of the other characters (they don't find it funny, either), it could very well have been intentional. It's usually included in some wonderful prose anyway, or an interesting situation that Scalzi has set up, so it's not a problem.
John Scalzi is on my "pick up on sight" list of authors, of which I don't have that many. His smart-aleck writing style could potentially grate on some readers, but I personally eagerly await more of it. The Last Colony is more of the same in that respect. And I'm glad it is.