The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi

Earth is very low on the pecking order of the galactic stage. Our closest associates are the Nidu, who are pretty much low-lives themselves. After a diplomatic incident caused by a disgruntled and vengeful State Department employee, the Nidu have Earth in their sights in a Machiavellian scheme involving a coup d’état and a sheep. The sheep, a very special breed, is to be used for the Nidu succession ceremony. Enter Harry Creek, war veteran and problem solver, who now has to find the sheep and keep it and himself alive while being chased by both the Nidu and the Department of Defense, the latter having its own plans.

Confused yet? I was. The first hundred pages introduce a plethora of characters, motivations and subplots. It is almost overwhelming. Thankfully, Scalzi’s trademark humor is out in force. Once the plot gets going the numerous twists and turns have you guessing, but the fun never stops. It is an action comedy, and a very good one. With a dry wit and a well-tuned sense of the absurd and the cliché, Scalzi deftly maneuvers the story to a momentous, unexpected and hilarious conclusion.

Zoë’s Tale – John Scalzi

This is a parallel book to The Last Colony, retold from the viewpoint of Zoë, the adoptive daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan. If you’ve read The Last Colony, you know the basic framework of the story. The colony of Roanoke is established as a secret holdout (and bait) against the Conclave. The Conclave must be stopped, but the Colonial Union isn’t playing fair.

I enjoyed the first half of this book more than the second. Zoë is a bubbly, sassy teenager with a sharp wit. Scalzi excels at putting a smile on the reader’s face even when recounting everyday events. He has also succeeded in making it sound as if the story is indeed told by a teenager, albeit an intelligent and precocious one. Unfortunately, the book bogs down in the second half, with long stretches of heavy handed dialogue ponderously moving the story forward. Scalzi painted himself into a corner with the very convoluted plot. On the whole, it is an enjoyable book, but nowhere near as good, or as much fun, as Old Man’s War.

The Last Colony – John Scalzi

In this second sequel to Old Man’s War. John Perry is back centre stage. He is married to Jane Sagan, the special forces soldier created from the DNA of his dead wife. They have adopted the daughter of Charles Boutin (see The Ghost Brigades) and have retired from the military and live on a quiet colony. The Colonial Union has other plans for them, however, and they are more or less drafted as leaders of a new colony. The catch is that the Conclave, a federation of races to whom humanity does not belong, has forbidden the creation of new colonies. And so their new colony, Roanoke, is hidden away. They are forbidden from using modern equipment. But the depth of the Colonial Union’s deception is hidden even from them. To add insult to injury, their information about the Conclave is flawed at best.

I enjoyed this one just like the previous two books. Scalzi is very good at characters, and the first person narration through Perry gives the book a light hearted, humorous sense. The plot is convoluted, perhaps too much so. Scalzi is good at keeping track, but this reader felt that all the plot twists required too much exposition. The novel lacked the sense of immediacy so present in Old Man’s War. A solid conclusion to the series in any case.

The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi

This is the sequel to the excellent Old Man’s War. John Perry, our hero from that book, is absent though mentioned. This novel deals with the genetically engineer supersoldiers of the Ghost Brigades, which comprise the Special Forces of the Colonial Union. Jared Dirac is created to house the recorded consciousness of Charles Boutin, a traitor to the Colonial Union. But the consciousness doesn’t take. He becomes just another Special Forces soldier, until the traitor’s memories and personality start emerging.

While a good read, this book has a problem. The macro story of political intrigue is rather dull and stretches believability. The first half, where most of the action deals with Jared’s development as a soldier and person, is excellent. Scalzi is playing to his strengths here, just as he did in Old Man’s War. There is lots of humor and focus on character. The second half is less enticing. While Jared is still an interesting character to follow, the background story is both abstract and dull. There is a great message in the plotline involving Boutin’s daughter, but it gets bogged down in Boutin’s evil genius posturing. While crazy geniuses with convoluted plans work fine in a James Bond movie, the whole thing falls a bit flat here. A decent read, but not as good as its predecessor.

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Earth is a backwater, kept in a sort of information embargo about humanity’s various off world colonies. Developing countries send colonists in droves, but in America the only option if you want to leave is to enlist in the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). There’s a catch, though. You can only enlist when you turn seventy-five. Details of what awaits the recruits are scant, and all ties to Earth are severed after enlistment. The whole thing is more or less a leap of faith. As it turns out, the Universe is a scary place and the CDF is more or less constantly at war. The recruits are rejuvenated, trained and sent out.

Our hero John Perry is one of these recruits. It is very interesting to see the story told from an old person’s viewpoint. All the recruits are old, and they don’t see things like youngsters do. It certainly makes a change from young people going to war. Perry does not know what to expect, and what he finds out there is far stranger than he ever imagined.

I enjoyed this book immensely. The main character is very likeable. He is basically Mr. Middle America (in the good way), but with the usual quirks to be expected after a lifetime. The pacing is excellent, unhurried but without bogging down. It is very strongly inspired by “Starship Troopers”, and as inspirations go one could do worse.

Agent to the Stars – John Scalzi

A Hollywood agent (for actors that is) acquires a new client: an alien blob named Joshua. It seems the aliens want to contact humans, but their appearance (read:image) is not the greatest.

Scalzi’s debut novel shows off his trademark humor. Great dialogue, funny situations, interesting characters. It does bog down a bit by the end, but unfortunately that is also a Scalzi trademark. Well worth a read. This book is funny!