Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (book review).

‘Zoe’s Tale’ is set in the universe so expertly depicted in ‘Old Man’s War’ but isn’t about the genetically grown green soldiers. This tale is about Zoë Boutin-Perry who is the adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan who were last seen in The Last Colony. They were previously known as Major Perry and Lieutenant Sagan but have recently retired from the Colonial Defence Forces (CDF) to take up civilian positions in the little town of New Goa on the agricultural colony world of Huckleberry. As part of their retirement package, they have been given new normal bodies which mean they lose the green skin tones common to all CDF soldiers.


While it’s good to catch up with Perry and Sagan again, the main character of the story is Zoë. She is the biological daughter of Cheryl and Charles Boutin who are now, unfortunately, deceased. Charles is the important character here as he developed a device that enables an alien race called the Obin to achieve consciousness. The Obin revere Charles Boutin for this and, after his untimely death, transfer this reverence to his daughter, Zoë. Such is their reverence that Zoë features in the Obin’s treaty with the Colonial Union giving them access to record her life. Two Obin are assigned as bodyguards and companions to the young Zoë, distributing to the Obin race all their recordings of their interactions with the young girl.

The nice settled life at New Goa becomes a lot more interesting with the arrival of CDF’s General Samuel Rybicki, who has a proposal for Perry and Sagan. The Colonial Union is going to start a new colony on the planet Roanoke and they want Perry and Sagan to be the new colony leaders. Of course, this will mean uprooting their entire house hold; Zoë, the dog Barbar, Perry’s assistant Savitri Guntupalli and, of course, the two Obin’s (named Hickory and Dickory by Zoë). The only sour note is that any new colony is going to be vigorously opposed by the Conclave, a rather large collection of alien races. They will step in and remove or destroy any new settlements set up by races not part of the Conclave and humans aren’t part of the Conclave.

There all the elements here for a really good novel story and, to a large extent, Scalzi pulls it off. That’s not to say the story is without its faults, some of which are discussed in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book. Perry’s assistant Guntupalli drifts in and out of the story while the sentient race of Roanoke make a dramatic appearance and then effectively disappear. The crew of the colony transporter the Magellan are probably the most aggrieved of all the parties but they too drift out of the story.

With the gripes out of the way there is a lot to commend about this book. Zoë’s position as almost a deity to an alien race and how she deals with it is the main story. The trials of starting a new colony and its threatened demise provide the stress points which Zoë has to deal with while coming to terms with the Obin. She is also growing from a 14 year old to a 17 year-old girl with all the usual teenage angst.

Colony life is hard and dangerous. People die which can have a devastating effect on those closest to them. Scalzi writes this beautifully and pulls no punches. I also like the fact that Scalzi’s bad guys aren’t pure evil, they just have opposing aims or ambitions to the main characters. ‘Zoe’s Tale’ is a welcome addition to the ‘Old Man’s War’ universe. It works as a standalone book, so you don’t have to have read the other books to get the most from Zoe’s Tale. While it could have benefitted by being a bit longer it is still a very good read.

Andy Whitaker

July 2014

(pub: TOR/Forge. 335 page small hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1698-6

pub: TOR-UK. 330 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-330-50603-8)

check out websites: www.tor-forge.com and www.panmacmillan.com

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