Book Review: The Lost Colony by Scalzi (3.5 stars)

The Lost Colony by John Scalzi

3.5 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2009

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the plot twists, and the conundrum of The Last Colony. I couldn’t keep from reading it, even while attending an all-day technology conference. At least no one looked at me strangely between sessions, since we were all geeks and I was reading a Scalzi novel, for goodness sake.

All the main characters were well established from the first two series installments, with the exception of Zoë. Several years have passed since John, Jane and Zoë became a family and settled on Huckleberry. Character development for Zoë hinges on her teenager-ness. Aside from the usual suspects (political power grabbing colony members, pacifist Mennonites, a meglomaniacal journalist and manipulative military generals), the rest of the cast exist to drive the plot.

One subplot was completely cut off and unresolved about midway through the story. It irked me to no end that the author would string us along, kill off a favorite supporting cast member and leave us dangling just because a more interesting external alien forces were threatening the colony. I’m not even sure that the sacrificed character got a decent burial, even though he of all the colonists deserved one.

Rather than connecting with any one character, like I did in the previous two novels, I really connected to the colony as a whole and the fate of humanity as encapsulated by the colony.

On an interesting side note, I now understand why John Scalzi is listed as a creative consultant to the Stargate: Universe television series. The fate of the stranded, lost people trapped on the Destiny mirrors many of the challenges and situations faced by the members of the colony Roanoke.

Not sure I could recommend this as a stand-alone novel, but it might survive a reading if you hadn’t read Old Man’s War or The Ghost Brigades first. The story occurs in the same universe, but is a vastly different type of story compared to the first two installments.

Book Review: The Human Divison by Scalzi (4 stars)

The Human Division by John Scalzi

4 out of 5 stars

Read Episodically January through April, 2013

Scalzi sucked me into a serialized novel last autumn with After the Coup, a short story set in his Old Man’s War universe.  He cooked up a scheme with his publisher, Tor, to not only return to that universe, but serve up the new book like you would a television season, with weekly episodes airing after midnight (in the States) on Tuesdays.  Since science fiction television in this country is all but non-existent, I took the bate – hook, line and sinker – and started reading the serialized Human Division in early January, ending with the final episode, released today.  Tor hosted a read-along at their web site, but I didn’t participate.  Not because I didn’t want to, but I just couldn’t carve out the time from an already hectic real-world schedule.

When I began this journey, I wasn’t sure if I would like waiting a week between chapters of a novel, especially if a particular chapter proved exceptionally riveting or left me hanging, just like television series tend to do (an overused trope if ever one existed).  I needn’t have worried.  Just as I used to look forward to new episodes of Stargate or Star Trek, I went to bed Monday nights knowing I would wake up to a fresh shiny new Human Division segment.  A handful of times, I even woke up after midnight and found myself reading the latest episode in the middle of the night (when I should have been sleeping … unforgiving 5:00 a.m. alarm clock).

Of the thirteen episodes, I only gave two of them less than four stars – the second episode (Walk the Plank) and the tenth one (This Must Be the Place).  Only one of the episodes got five stars from me – A Problem of Proportion.  The final double episode – Earth Below, Sky Above – would have gotten five stars, had it not been for the ending (or lack of one).  Even this morning’s announcement by the author stating the Human Division had been ‘renewed’ for a second season couldn’t assuage my angst.  I just wanted to raise an eyebrow in my best Spock impersonation and say ‘Really?’ (no, not ‘Fascinating’ … just ‘Really?!?!’).

All kidding aside, I did enjoy reading a serialized novel (in ebook format) during the first quarter of 2013.  By the time the second season rolls around, I’ll have gotten over my angst and dive right in to the next Human Division.

Book Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi (4 stars)

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

4 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

The first half of this sequel to Old Man’s War immersed us in Special Forces, as experienced by Jared Dirac, a very unusual recruit to the Ghost Brigades. Jared’s squad leader is none other than Jane Sagan. Unlike Old Man’s War, combat and battle are secondary to what’s going on inside of Jared’s brain.

The second half reveals more of the politics driving the war and fight to colonize in this corner of the galaxy. Jared meets Charles Broutin, and more importantly, his daughter Zoë. Jane and Jared discover ever more frightening information regarding the aliens Charles is aiding to the detriment of humanity.

I enjoyed this novel at least as much as the first installment. Scalzi might not have made me laugh, but he did make me cry on more than one occasion. If you’ve read Old Man’s War, you won’t be disappointed in this sequel.

Book Review: Old Man’s War by Scalzi (4 stars)

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

4 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2008

A good story, regardless of genre, and an especially great military science fiction tale.

Our point of view is through the eyes of John Perry. We meet him on Earth, as a seventy-five year old widower living in Ohio. It’s his birthday and it’s time for him to report for duty. He (and his wife) both signed up for the Colonial Defense Force ten years ago, recruited with visions of renewed youth and minimum of two years of service. Kathy died eight years ago of a stroke while making cookies in their kitchen. John makes his farewells to friends and family and visits his wife’s grave one last time.

John and several thousand other 75-year olds are transported to a Colonial transport ship and enjoy the usual military “hurry up and wait” routine. Eventually, after seemingly endless and pointless tests, the day of truth arrives and the recruits report for their final physical improvements regimen.

Rather than a retrofit of his existing body, John receives a new improved not quite human body with many enhancements, including green photosynthetic skin, cat-like eyes, SmartBlood (nanotechnology), BrainPal (PDA and HUD with extreme Internet access all embedded in the brain – both voice and thought activated) and superhuman reflexes, strength and endurance. After training, designed mostly to convince the recruits that their old inhibitions do not apply to their new bodies, the soldiers are dropped into battle with a variety of incomprehensible, tenacious and prolific alien species. Their goal – to defend the scarce “real estate” of the human colonies and potential colony planets.

For me, the best parts of this story were the relationships. They were sparse but gripping. Perry’s memories of his wife and marriage. The familial bonding among the Old Farts and the grief of their passing. I was especially touched with the death of Maggie, who composed a heart-wrenching jisei poem as she plummeted through a planet’s atmosphere:

Do not mourn me, friends
I fall as a shooting star
Into the next life

And lastly the burgeoning relationship between Jane Sagan, occupying the body of Kathy, John’s wife, and John Perry. Her anonymous postcard sent to John inviting him to find her when he retires and start a new life with her brought tears to my eyes.

I recommend this to anyone who loves military science fiction, with a good dose of wit and sarcasm, flavored with a gentle touch of what it means to be human in an insane non-human galaxy.

Welcome to the Deadly Ice Planet of Death AKA February (via Whatever)

Scalzi welcomes us to February

Welcome to the Deadly Ice Planet of Death AKA February It's not much to look at, admittedly. It's the mundane ice planet of death. But those apparent bald patches of lawn there are actually encased in ice, thick enough that Krissy and the dog both had difficulty  walking across the lawn this morning. The roads are a mess, school is canceled and Krissy is staying home. And of course more mess is on the way, with snow, sleet and ice trading places as the day goes by, and a winter storm warning that doe … Read More

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Crimes of Education (via Whatever)

Crimes of Education I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail asking for my thoughts about Kelley Williams-Bolar, the woman here in Ohio who was recently sentenced to to ten days in prison (of which apparently she served nine) and now has a felony record because she and her father listed the father’s residence as the primary residence of her children, in order that the kids could go to school in a better school district. As I understand it, idea here is that because she did … Read More

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And Now, For No Particular Reason, a Rant About Facebook (via Whatever)

Scalzi on Facebook

A friend of mine noted recently that I seemed a little antagonistic about Facebook recently — mostly on my Facebook account, which is some irony for you — and wanted to know what I had against it. The answer is simple enough: Facebook is what happens to the Web when you hit it with the stupid stick. It’s a dumbed-down version of the functionality the Web already had, just not all in one place at one time. Facebook has made substandard versions … Read More

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People We Can All Agree Are Scumbags (via Whatever)

Scalzi on Phelps

Some folks are asking me about my thoughts on the Westboro Baptist Church deciding to picket the funeral of the nine-year-old victim of the Tucson shooting. Very briefly: 1. Fred Phelps and his pals make me wish I were a religious man, so I could enjoy imagining the lot of them spending eternity as a human centipede in the very bowels of Hell. But that’s really not a good reason to want to be religious. 2. The day Charlie Stross pointed me to an … Read More

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