What it’s about: A new galactic council, the Conclave, has emerged – its goal, to end inter-species conflict over planetary resources by only allowing new colonies under its auspices. The Colonial Union isn’t happy with this development and enlists the now-retired John Perry to head up a new colony in defiance of this directive.
- Scalzi’s great gift is his ability to write about intrigue – the Colonial Union is portrayed here as a Machiavellian operator with multiple layers of intent running through its various initiatives.
- Great power politics is at the forefront – the Conclave is a classic move to upstage realist views of international relations by creating a system in which the benefits of membership outweigh the costs. The Colonial Union, as a local superpower of sorts, has been able to ignore this equation for now, but the shifting webs of power dynamics percolate through the narrative.
- Reading this in opposition to The Dark Forest, which also presents a similar vision of interstellar political dynamics, presents an interesting contrast of parameters. In this universe, interstellar travel is fast, species are broadly similar in psychological characteristics, and information flows are much more transparent – whereas that is completely the opposite case in the Three-Body universe. These qualities in theory make it easier to upend the dark forest equilibrium that so imprisons the thinking of advanced civilisations in the latter case. Essentially, when it is not difficult to find planets and alien species, and when it is far easier to collect intelligence about the intentions and capabilities of the enemy, mutually assured destruction is no longer the imperative – such a race would probably be found and exterminated quite quickly. In fact, I find it quite surprising that the species in Scalzi’s universe have taken so long to get their act together.
- The John Perry chronicles also include another book, Zoe’s Tale, which runs concurrently to this one and focuses on the adventures of Perry’s adopted daughter Zoe. That book was a fun read when I last read it like 5 years ago, but I haven’t read it for this round as my intention was to refresh my memory before going on to the newest offerings in the Old Man’s War oeuvre.
Verdict: While John Perry isn’t my favorite character, The Last Colony is a satisfying exposition on the emerging political structures of the wider universe, and an interesting science-fictional commentary on international relations.
I give this: 4/5 Gamerans