Fiction Reviews

Zoe's Tale

(2008) John Scalzi, Tor UK, 6.99 / Can$13.99, pbk, 335 pp, ISBN 978-0-330-50603-8


This is the UK paperback of Scalzi's novel launched last year (2008) in the US. Now (2009) we have the first publication of the paperback edition this side of the Atlantic.

Scalzi's Zoe's Tales is a military space opera set in his Old Man's War universe. At this point you may want to see my earlier review of The Last Colony as this book is essentially the same novel but told from the perspective of Zoe, the step-daughter of John and Jane Perry: really, you do need to check out my earlier review of The Last Colony.

What Scalzi has done is what Orson Scott Card did with Ender's Shadow which was a retelling of Ender's Game from the perspective of a different protagonist. Of course it is not a straight re-telling, Zoe has a couple of adventures away from (one of which unbeknown to) her stepparents. We get a different take on the 'werewolf' aliens but for me this episode still does not sit easily within the frame of the novel: nice try though JS.  We also get sufficiently a different take on the colony's establishment and fight for survival for this to be a worthy novel in its own right.  Yet, for me at least, the problem remains that the colony's survival does depend on Scalzi's rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick with new (alien) technology arriving in the nick of time.

Where this book really scores is that it reads very much like a book written for teenagers, and, of course, with its teenage protagonist I am sure that this novel could be a bit of a hit with younger readers: to them it is heartily recommended.

The 'Old Man's War' universe is an interesting one with the original novel being by far the best in terms of numbers of new concepts, inventiveness of plot together with the balance of these elements with sheer gung-ho action. After Last Colony Scalzi said (in that book's afterword) that he would leave the Old Man's universe for a while. In Zoe's Tale's afterword we learn that he did not because he felt Last Colony flawed (in part along some of the lines I have previously mentioned). Part of me wishes he had left well alone, another bit of me is glad he wrote Zoe's Tale.  I am glad because I really do like Old Man's War but am disappointed as, again, I do not think this novel delivered as did the original in the series.  Perhaps this time he will leave well alone until he has enough material and time in which to hone it to really astound us.  Now, if you think I am being unduly critical then remember the man has only himself to blame for setting his original standard so high.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Karen's take on Zoe's Tale.

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