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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

In lieu of a Weekend Discussion, I am posting my review of Zoe's Tale to promote the giveaway that ends next week. :)

Title: Zoe's Tale, a novel of the Old Man's War Universe
Author: John Scalzi
Reviewed Format: hardcover
Release Date: August 19, 2008
Pages: 336

Sixteen-year old Zoë Boutin Perry is your average teenaged girl.  She has a best friend, a boyfriend, a lovable--if clueless--pet, and two alien bodyguards (whom she, at a much younger age, named Hickory and Dickory) trained and prepared to eliminate any and all threats to her well-being.  I guess Zoë has a couple of things that separate her from the average teenager after all.  Fans of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War Trilogy will recognize Zoë as the adopted daughter of Jane and John Perry and a young woman who became rather pivotal in the plot of both The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony.  Zoë’s Tale is, in fact, a book that parallels The Last Colony but isn’t really dependent on it or the trilogy to sustain the narrative.  It’s a witty and intelligent addition to the existing Old Man’s War library that not only illuminates large swathes of plot before left shrouded in mystery, but does it from the point of view of a teenage girl--an experience John Scalzi admits, he has never had.

For as much as I read and review them, I still consider myself new to YA books. Also: I’m picky; I’ll only read YA titles if they’re Fantasy of Science Fiction, otherwise I lose interest very quickly.  Despite this, I think I’ve developed a good idea of what a smart and sharp YA protagonist should sound like.  That and let’s not forget: I was once a teenage girl.  Taking both factors into consideration I would like to say I think John Scalzi did a great job!  Zoë is incredibly self-aware, articulate, and has a wicked sense of humor.  There are enough diversions and digressions into fights with Gretchen (best friend) or Magdy (boyfriend’s best friend), PDA-deprived boredom, and singing contests to temper the maturity she exhibits quite spectacularly throughout the narrative.

Living on Roanoke may be boring, but Zoë learns that disobeying her parents sometimes has its advantages, saving people is hard work, and family (even best friends) is the most important thing in her life.  She has a lot to contend with, being used as a bargaining chip to prevent war between the Obin and the Colonial Union. Because of her involvement in the peace treaty between these two Universe powerhouses, Zoë’s had more than a few years to adjust to the nuances of political manipulation and negotiations.  It doesn’t mean she’s ready to emotionally deal with it all, though.  When Roanoke turns out to be the-next-best-thing-to-Roanoke, the colonists aboard the the Magellan believe, albeit angry at the unfairness of it all (the gall of their government--taking away their PDAs and cutting off contact from the rest of humanity), the CU diverted their colony for altruistic reasons.  If you had to choose between safety and possible annihilation or guaranteed annihilation, which would you rather have?  What follows is a mountain of unearthed complications, hidden agendas, and unspoken treaties.  Zoë becomes integral, point and center, to some dangerous and risky negotiations when, after landing at Roanoke and beginning to colonize the old-fashioned way, the colony learns it isn’t just the local life that wants to destroy them, but the Conclave--an intergalactic cooperative seeking to populate entire planets with its members; join them or be destroyed.  Matters become stickier when Zoë discovers she can’t rely on her Obin companions to help save the colony, at least not without some creative rethinking.

Zoë’s Tale is hilarious.  Scalzi’s quick wit and disarming observations make for very accessible prose I’d recommend to new SF readers as quickly as I would to veterans of the genre.  He also always challenges the classic “first meeting” trope with songs and subtext.  It’s imaginative and impressive, especially considering he figures out how to make the sweetly ridiculous, always touching behaviors and motivations work to benefit the plot.  There may be aliens, inter-planetary movement, and galactic considerations of consequence, but Scalzi always brings the narrative back to the core of what makes SF (and literature in general) so special: it’s a medium to explore what it ultimately means to be human.

It doesn’t matter that Zoë’s is a timeline far into the future.  No amount of technological advancements or social awareness makes it any less easier growing up as a human teenager.  We all have to navigate hormones, parents, peer drama, and hope we turn into the kind of adults our parents, or we, can be proud of.  Luckily for Zoë, it seems she’s on the right path.  The right decision isn’t always the easiest one; sometimes we have to give up what we love the most, not because it’s the right decision, but because it’s the most beneficial one.  Weighing the nebulous unwritten rules of Being a Decent Human Being between very human desires and base needs to find a successful balance (i.e. decisions you can live with) is usually a difficult thing for an adult.  Zoë manages this at the age of sixteen.  I don’t just recommend Zoë’s Tale to fans of YA or YA Science Fiction--I recommend it to anyone who wants an engaging and fun read that always assumes an intelligent reader.  You won’t want to put it down.

How many Jawas recommend this book?

Liked the review?

You can win a copy of this book!  Open to US residents, enter JRT's first ever giveaway for your chance to win a mass market paperback edition of Zoe's Tale!

Remember: read all of the rules and read them carefully.  There are a few things I require for entries to be considered for the giveaway.  You have until March 11, 2010 to enter.  The contest runs through that day; a winner will be picked the next day at random.  Good luck and happy reading!


Lily Child said...

Erika, love, I have an award for you!

Anonymous said...

I'm really excited for this series!

Why is spring break so slow getting here? D:

Erika said...

@Lily: Thank you! I'll go look right now. :)

@TJ: Ooo I hope it comes soon so you can read Scalzi and we can talk about the trilogy! His books are so addicting...

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