John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale

cover of John Scalzi's Zoe's TaleI've enjoyed all the books in Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR universe, but ZOE'S TALE is my favorite. The previous book in the series, THE LAST COLONY, finds series heroes John Perry and Jane Sagan preparing to come out of retirement to lead a new human colony. The universe they live in being a harsh and dangerous place where myriad factions fight over every scrap of land, their new colony's situation ends up getting complicated. ZOE'S TALE retells the events of THE LAST COLONY from the perspective of seventeen-year-old Zoe, John Perry and Jane Sagan's adopted daughter. I'm a sucker for stories of sarcastic teens, and Scalzi is pretty much the reigning king of sarcasm. The banter between Zoe and her friend Gretchen is pretty much worth the price of admission all on its own.

What really surprised me though was how moving the book was. It actually brought me to tears at one point.

Retelling the same story from a different perspective is tough, and it usually doesn't work (where 'work' is defined as telling a compelling story that brings something new to the table for folks who've already read the original). A few things made it work here: first, Zoe was pivotal to the events of COLONY, but we don't learn very much about how she did what she did, so Scalzi still had room to surprise me. And he did.

Second, in Colony, Scalzi pulled off the neat trick of presenting an ensemble of side characters who felt like they had full inner lives outside of Perry and Sagan's narratives. He managed to create the impression that these people were all the heroes of their own stories, and those just weren't the stories he happened to be telling at the time. So I came into ZOE'S TALE wanting to hear more of these other people's stories. And I did.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, ZOE'S TALE isn't really the same story at all. It's a completely different story that just happens to be told at the same time and place as the previous one. Zoe's goals line up pretty well with her parents' as far as not wanting her colony wiped off the map, but her dramatic arc isn't about saving the colony--or at least, it's not directly about that. It's about a young woman who's trying to find her place in a big and complicated universe.

And she does.

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Posted on July 15, 2012 and filed under Books I Love.