The Human Division, by John Scalzi

Usually by the time that I hit book five of a series, I need a break.  I’ll feel a little tired of the author; I’ll have come to expect their turns of phrase, I’ll know some of the ways in which they think, and I often have some inkling of where the story will go before it ever gets there.  Tired isn’t quite the right word, but you get the idea.  It’s right around then that I start looking at other books longingly and prepare to binge my way through a different series.

But John Scalzi has completely avoided this predicament.  I mean, sure, maybe I expected some of what was coming from Zoe’s Tale, but that’s mostly because it covered a lot of territory that I had already read in The Last Colony.

Where am I going with all of this?  Here: The Human Division is great, and I want more.  In fact, I want to see the next book in my hands as soon as possible.  I accept that this might take some time, as I am certainly aware of the frustratingly slow pace at which stories are often written, but nevertheless.  This series is exceptional, and reading it feels a bit like I imagine being sucked out of an airlock must feel.  Except that the frigid void of space is actually a deeply engrossing series of story lines, and you don’t end up boiling your liquids out through your pores while freezing at the same time.  Ok, look, the analogy was a bit forced, but these books will grab you and pull you along mercilessly with all the force of an explosive decompression, only freeing you once you’ve come out the other side.

Treat yourself to a good time and read this series, you won’t be disappointed.  Would you like to know more?

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Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi

We now return to our scheduled review of Scalzi’s book Zoe’s Tale, the “odd one out” in the series started by Old Man’s War.

Zoe’s Tale is the parallel novel that accompanies The Last Colony.  I’m impressed that Scalzi even attempted to write a second book covering much of the same temporal territory, and I’m even more impressed that he was able to write something that stood on its own despite the fact that I already knew (almost) exactly what was going to happen.

I understand that some people (like my friend Ben) don’t like Zoe’s Tale as much as they like the other books in the Old Man’s War universe.  And I can see why: if you were looking for a totally new story, Zoe’s Tale isn’t the place to go.  On the other hand, if you are just looking for a good read and are ok with covering some ground that you’ve already been over before, Zoe’s Tale is perfectly solid and enjoyable.  My opinion of the book may be influenced by the fact that I didn’t have to wait for it to come out and didn’t have to wait for the next book in the series; there are a number of failings which instant gratification will fix.

But I don’t think it’s fair to call the repetition in Zoe’s Tale a failing.  Maybe I just feel this way because I’m impressed by Scalzi’s ability to weave a second story in behind all the elements that I already knew, but I really do think that Zoe’s Tale is quite excellent.  Scalzi manages to take a story that I’ve already heard before (right down to many of the essential details, and occasionally even the conversations) and offers it back up in an exciting fashion, following a character that I’ve only ever seen moving around on the sidelines before.  It’s great.  Also, damn, what a climax.

Enough of generalities!  Let’s get down to some specifics, shall we?

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The Last Colony, by John Scalzi

I really should have written this review last week.  I’ve been on a Scalzi kick, and finished The Last Colony last Wednesday.  Then I started and finished Zoe’s Tale on Saturday, and started The Human Division Saturday evening.  I’m afraid that things have gotten more than a little jumbled in my mind at this point.  That said, I’ve still got enough details in order that I can tell you for certain that The Last Colony follows in the footsteps of its predecessors and offers up a fabulous read.

Also, I know that it shouldn’t matter to the book itself, but John Harris’ cover art for the book is just gorgeous.

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The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi

I shouldn’t be surprised that I went through The Ghost Brigades in one day.  After my experience of reading Old Man’s War I should have expected this compulsion, the need to rush headlong through the story as quickly as I could, even to the point of ignoring my friends and the rest of the world.  All of the nice things that I said about John Scalzi’s writing last time still apply.  This book is easy to read and hard to put down, and when I finished it I was left wanting more.  Fortunately, my friend whom I’d been ignoring sympathized with my plight and had a copy of the next book in the series ready to loan to me.  So, of course, I stayed up late reading more of that.

Right, series: in my review of Old Man’s War, I think I somehow failed to mention that it was the start of a series of books.  The Ghost Brigades is the first of several sequels, but while it builds on the setting established in Old Man’s War and even features some of the same characters, its story builds off in an entirely new direction.  It reads like a standalone story, but if you really want the full experience I strongly suggest that you read Old Man’s War first.  There are interlocking complexities that become readily apparent as you continue the series, and you’ll benefit from reading the books in order.

My verdict, once again, is that you should get your hands on this book with all possible haste.  Right after you get your hands on Old Man’s War, of course.  For more of my thoughts on the story, read on below…

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Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

I’m delaying my game-system flavor post again due to overexcitement.  You see, I finished Old Man’s War yesterday and I just had to share my thoughts with you.  In case you were wondering, I also started Old Man’s War yesterday.  What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been better put by Cory Doctorow and Ken MacLeod?  I suppose I’ll start with, “I was silly not to read this ages ago, because it’s really damn good.”

Seriously, this book has been sitting on my reading list for years, ever since my brother Nate suggested that I should read it soon after it came out in 2005.  At the time, I had no idea who John Scalzi was or why I should like his work, and the title and concept simply didn’t grab me.  Apart from the prodigious numbers of recommendations I had received telling me to read the book (and my growing infatuation with Scalzi’s writing), not that much had changed as of yesterday.  Then I opened the book and read the first few pages, and boom, I was gone.

I really should have expected that something like this would happen again, given how I felt about Agent to the Stars and Redshirts, but I was once more taken by surprise and pulled right into the deep end.  I barely came up for air, and dove through the book in the course of several hours.  The short take?  Read it.  My more considered opinion?  Read on…

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