In one of my Old Man’s War reviews I mentioned that Scalzi’s strong suit wasn’t in crafting disparate personality types; his best characters are all (presumably, but I’m confident on the logic) stand ins for John Scalzi, which is fine because I like them all.
This book has more than a dozen characters we share a POV with. It’s a lot, and it doesn’t play to the author’s strengths. I had a tough time separating characters for just this reason, and it somewhat undermines Scalzi’s attempts at diversity. I love that he writes strong female characters, but when Danielle Lowen reads the same as Jane Sagan plus motion sickness, it feels like tokenism, even if John Perry and Harry Wilson are basically the same character too.
Anyway, this book follows the threads of a plot against the earth and/or the colonial union, which are no longer the same thing. To be honest, I had a hard time following the plot in a way that might be partially attributable to reader fatigue; this was A Lot of book and I feel like Scalzi nobly extends himself, if not fully successfully. Even if the plot is more cohesive on a subsequent read, I stand by my assessment that a lack of diverse characterization makes that plot difficult to follow.
Each book in the series acts as course correction to the previous novels, and Scalzi admits reader feedback shapes his choices in the afterword to Zoe’s Tale. But, at least for me, Scalzi is better served by depth over breadth in characters, especially in a tale this intricate with multiple double crosses. It’s still damn good – that opening chapter is astonishing – but replaces The Last Colony as my least favorite so far.