This is review number lucky 13 and marks halfway through my half cannonball. I’m on better track this year than last!
The End of All Things is the sixth book in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War universe and direct sequel to The Human Division. THD is a set of thirteen standalone short stories (originally released serially in e-format and then collected in dead tree format) with a narrative thread tying the stories together. TEoAT, while not advertised as such, feels similar only instead of short stories they are novellas (or maybe novelettes, I’m not sure where the distinction lies). The book is broken into four parts, each with a different narrator and perspective into the ongoing hostilities. TEoAT reveals all sides of the difficult situation the universe currently finds itself in.
“The End of All Things” as a title isn’t being overly dramatic. The Colonial Union (CU) is standing on the brink of civil war. Now that Earth has cut itself off from the CU the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) has no easy way to resupply it’s super soldiers. Human planets that have chafed under the rule of the CU and CDF are pushing for succession. Without the careful orchestration of goods between the planets of the CU to create the supplies necessary to run the CDF, and without a way to fill their ranks, the CDF is facing it’s possible destruction if a civil war occurs. As if civil war wasn’t bad enough, it has now been confirmed that there is a shadow faction, Equilibrium, pulling the strings of the triad composed of the several hundred species strong alien Conclave alliance, the humans of Earth, and the now cut off from Earth humans of the Colonial Union. Equilibrium’s goal is to manipulate each faction to bring about the destruction of the Conclave, the Colonial Union, and hopefully wipe out a bunch of humans along the way.
The first part of the book “Life of the Mind” was perhaps my favorite part. Ships have been disappearing from both the Conclave and CU and in the first part of TEoAT we find out what has been happening to them. Told from the perspective of space pilot Rafe Daquin we learn about Equilibrium and their nefarious plot to steal ships and meld them with the brain of one of the pilots. However, they get more than they bargained for when they tangle with Daquin.
In “This Hollow Union” we learn how tenuous the alien Conclave alliance really is. What I really liked about this section is how through his sparse prose Scalzi gets across how different each of the species are. As I know he is a proud feminist, I assume he purposefully put a lot of thought into how species identify genders and use pronouns. Some are binary male/female, some don’t differentiate, one species has five different designations and everyone (even the humans!) are respectful in regards to using the correct pronoun when dealing with other. Like many good science fiction that came before TEoAT shows us a goal to strive for.
Part three “Can Long Endure” shows how tenuous the bonds of the Colonial Union have become. Following the lives of a CDF squad we see the rebellion brewing on the CU planets. As in previous works, Scalzi carefully crafts his sci-fi such that he paints in broad strokes so you have a clear idea of the technology but he doesn’t get bogged down in details. I suspect this will add to his long term readability as technology catching up with authors (Peter F. Hamilton’s Greg Mandel trilogy comes to mind) can be problematic.
The story concludes with “To Stand or Fall” in which all the pieces of the puzzle come together. If you’ve been following along since the beginning with The Old Man’s War, TEoAT is indispensable reading. This book feels like it will be the last one in this universe for some time, possibly ever. Scalzi’s latest book, The Collapsing Empire, is the start of a new universe setting and is another factor supporting that ‘having reached the end’ feeling.
While the story part of TEoAT ends with the fourth part the book itself doesn’t end with that section. Apparently this was one of the more difficult books Scalzi has written and he had several false starts leading to an entire novella’s worth of written material being set aside. At the end of the book he includes what was a different version of the opening of this book. It is an interesting insight into the writing process as you see what he kept and what he threw out. For what it’s worth I’m glad he made the changes as I think it’s a stronger and less stereotypical story as a result.
Scalzi continues to be a go to author when I am looking for science fiction that isn’t grand space opera.