Often, reading science fiction can be like studying a technical manual, filled with obfuscated, abstract concepts and obtuse, cutting-edge technologies, but lacking a real good story underneath it all. Furthermore, the prose is heavy and dense and littered with infodumps. In point, it is everything that John Scalzi’s novels are not. Scalzi writes science fiction for people who don’t usually read science fiction, and wouldn’t even know how to spell quantum physics. His books are fun, light reads that are like little fluffy balls of space opera sweetness.
His latest novel, “Zoe’s Tale”, which is set in his Old Man’s War universe, is hip, cheeky, filled with humor and just downright entertaining. If half the authors out there could write characters that were this much fun, life would just be better.
Zoe Boutin-Perry is the fifteen-year old adopted daughter of Jane Sagen and John Perry. Jane and John are enlisted by the Colonial Union to establish and serve as leaders of the new colony of Roanoke. Immediately things go badly and Roanoke is threatened by the massive Conclave, a consortium of four hundred separate alien races. To avoid attack from the Conclave, the colony must isolate itself technologically from the rest of the universe.
Before his death, Zoe’s biological father had bestowed a technological innovation on an intelligent alien race called the Obin which developed in them a sense of consciousness. Revering her father’s gift to them with almost a holy fervor, the Obin have since treated Zoe like their god. Furthermore, Zoe serves as the vessel whose consciousness the Obin record in order to further understand the intricacies of their newly-acquired conscious thought.
Soon, the colony’s isolation is lifted, only to discover that a larger threat awaits them. They are only a chesspiece being thoughtlessly moved around by much greater political forces. Zoe is eventually called upon to use all her resourcefulness and wit to save the colony, her parents and friends. In the end, she will be forced to make tough moral decisions in order to ensure everyone’s survival.
Scalzi has a gift for writing appealing characters, which is mostly conveyed through their witty banter. In fact, just about all of his human characters have the witty banter thing down. The aliens for the most part are less slick.(Likely cheekiness is an inherently human quality.) While this is vastly entertaining, it isn’t too realistic or believable, and transforms all the characters into sounding both emotionally and intellectually similar. Not that this is major criticism, it just means that the story and characters are geared towards the reader’s entertainment. It would be bad if the reader however wasn’t entertained.
“Zoe’s Tale” is like a big summer blockbuster, a wild ride bursting with that thrill-of-your-life, full-tilt excitement which gets the adrenal gland pumping. You’ll have a ton of fun and amusement at the time, but you probably won’t remember much of it after it ends. But it is definitely worth the ride.
John Scalzi has written another thrill-ride of a novel, a big heaping bowl of space opera goodness that will put a smile on your face and fun in your belly. If you are looking for some quick, light amusement “Zoe’s Tale” will definitely fit the bill.
Final Grade: 74 out of 100