Thursday, August 09, 2007

Roanoke repeated

kw: book reviews, science fiction, space colonies, space aliens

Is it possible for political double- and triple-dealing to get so convoluted that everybody gets lost in the weeds? Cynically speaking, perhaps it happens all the time, and is our only saving grace. If you want to follow the plot of The Last Colony in a more-than-cursory way, you're going to need a score sheet. But I prefer to read each twist as a new event with its attendant problem to be solved, and revel in that.

Having read only one other book by John Scalzi (reviewed in May 2007), I find that 2-3 new plot twists per chapter (16 chapters inhabit the current book) and multitudes of alien races are simply stock in trade for him.

The plot of The Last Colony is an onion of at least six layers, or possibly a Matruchka doll. Peeling too deep for you would be spoilure, so a couple will do: The first layer vanishes very early, when the 2,500 or so settlers for a new colony find themselves on the wrong planet, and are forced to live without using any wireless devices. A contingent of Mennonites and a hold full of "obsolete" farming equipment lead the way to an old-fashioned new life. It seems the colony must be kept secret. Later we see why: a new coalition of alien species is destroying all new colonies by non-coalition members. But the next layer to peel off—once the colonists, against all odds, avert destruction—reveals that they are now considered better off dead, by everyone except themselves.

The colony's name, Roanoke, gives some of this away to anyone who knows some history. It seems, in a number of places, the author has paid good attention to history.

The hero/heroine/heroine family at the center of things, a 90-year-old man in a 20-year-old body (his third), his 16-year old wife (created adult, so she appears 30-ish), and their 15-year-old adopted daughter, one after another, accomplish the seeming impossible. It helps that the daughter is an object of worship to an entire planet of powerful aliens...but not as much as you might imagine; that'd be much too simple.

The 90/20 man, John Perry, seems adept at making friends of enemies, and skilled at avoiding making enemies in the first place. In that, I find him very unlike just about everyone I know! While two or three other major characters are pragmatic enough to make friends as needed, even with former foes, Perry is uniquely uncalculating about that, though uniquely calculating otherwise.

He is the moral man unstained, if you will, who proves the proverb "You can't cheat an honest man." His nearest counterpart is Hiram Yoder, leader of the Mennonites, a truly Christian man without a trace of the weakness that most folks associate with meekness. (NOTE: meekness requires the greatest strength)

Another thing about Scalzi. As I recall, he had a scene in Android's Dream that brought me to tears. This book has two. Good thing I had the door closed when I was reading.

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