Saturday, August 23, 2008

Zoe's Tale: another hit!

I just finished reading Zoe's Tale, the latest book in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. It was a blast, and I recommend it to anyone who's read the previous books in the series. It takes place concurrently with the events of The Last Colony, but it's not a direct retelling; the story is told through the eyes of Zoe Boutin, adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan. I won't talk too much about the events of the story; it's fun to get a different perspective on the events in the previous book, and I wouldn't want to spoil anything. But it lives up to its premise, and more. It even made me cry, which is a rare trick for a book. If you've read the previous books in the series and enjoyed them, you need to read this one. Even if you haven't read the other books, this is a good young-adult sci-fi novel. If that sounds appealing to you, you'll probably enjoy this book. It feels like this is a stand-alone book, that you don't need to have read any of the other books in the series to make sense of this one -- but, I'm saying that having read the previous books. If you haven't, and you read Zoe's Tale, let me know if it works for you as a stand-alone novel.

The entire Old Man's War series is what I'd call "starter sci fi": they're good books to recommend to people who aren't familiar with the genre. They've got a sci-fi setting, and sci-fi tech, and sci-fi science, but at the core they're really about an entertaining story told by interesting, likable characters. The science is never overwhelming, and it's not laden with the jargon-speak that drives new readers away from harder science fiction. They're witty and clever, the tone is almost conversational, and the books are very accessible to people unfamiliar with the genre conventions of science fiction.

Much has been made of the voice of the novel, how accurately Scalzi managed to capture the sense of being inside the head of a fifteen-year-old girl. I have to say, I was impressed with the viewpoint; it really felt like it was told by a teenager. The main character's reactions felt true, and her use of language seems very much like what you'd hear from a kid. And, as an aside, when Zoe sounds the most like a clever, sarcastic teenager, she also sounds a lot like Scalzi himself....

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