I’m a big fan of John Scalzi, and the Old Man’s War series are some of his best. This is the third novel, and in this we return to John Perry, the protagonist from the first book, and Jane Sagan.
This is a tricky one to summarize without giving away parts of the first book, but in a nutshell, the Colonial Defense Forces have decided to colonize a new planet despite pressure from a coalition of hundreds of races not to do so. John and Jane are chosen to lead the colonization efforts, and not only must they guide the settlers to thrive in a new environment and protect them from any dangers on the surface, but they also have to help the colony survive extraterrestrial threats.
This wasn’t my favourite of the series, but it was still a blast to read. I love Scalzi’s sarcastic dialogue, and the universe he’s built in this series is endlessly interesting, filled with different races and government intrigue. This definitely could have been a bit of a slower read, compared to the plots of the first two books, but it does turn out to be quite action packed. I was as equally interested in the managing of a new settlement as I was in the space opera-ish side of the story, which is a testament to how well he paced the plot. I also like how each of the novels in this series feels like a serious departure from the previous story, while still maintaining an identifiable tone and cohesive feel.
It’s good fun, but I did feel like it lacked some depth, as some parts of it felt underdeveloped. There’s a species on the planet that the settlers spend some time investigating, and confronting, and it felt like it led nowhere at all. I suppose the point was to add tension, and to drive home the fact that they were left on this planet without sufficient information, but by the end it just felt like an unfinished subplot or some action for action’s sake. This entire plot was also put into place because the Colonial Union, the human organization in charge of space expansion and defense, has apparently turned both stupid and evil, willing to sacrifice thousands of humans for recruitment purposes as a seemingly first option, and we don’t really get much background on that. It’s not one man with a mad scheme, it’s apparently a tactic agreed upon by all of the leaders.
There was a lot going on in these few hundred pages, which did cause them to fly by, but it also left us with some unexplored plot elements and flat main characters. This was supposed to be the last novel in the trilogy, but he’s written two more since this was published. I feel like if I thought this was the end, it would have been a fun but slightly disappointing end to a great series. The next book is actually a retelling of this same story, but told from another character’s point of view, which is an interesting idea. It’s hard to imagine that it’ll grip me the same way if I already know the outcome. It does sound like many of the underdeveloped plot points in this book will be expanded upon in Zoe’s Tale, so I’ll have to see how that goes.
Despite its minor problems, this was a lot of fun. If you’ve enjoyed any of his other books, definitely give this series a try, because it’s fantastic.