When someone asks me what got me back into reading science fiction, I point them to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. In 2007 and 2008, I picked up the first novel, and gobbled it up, followed by the two follow-ups, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony. I was hooked.
This is a fun, accessible series for anyone looking to dive into great space opera—it has always felt to me like Scalzi is reaching out to people who love exciting space adventure to say, “I love this, too. Let me show you how much fun it can be!” The first three novels remain expansive, cinematic, and fresh no matter how many times I re-read them, qualities that continue in The End of All Things, which invites us back for another superb trip into the world of the Colonial Union.
The End of All Things is the 6th book in the series, closing out the storyline that was introduced in 2013’s The Human Division, and, like its predecessor, it was first published in a series of digital serial releases (this time, four novellas over the course of a month). Yet as a novel, it reads smoothly, each section tied to the next by escalating events and characters we already know and love.
Each novella focuses on a different character and aspect of the political quagmire that the Colonial Union, the Conclave, and Earth find themselves in as a mysterious other party continues its attempts to turn the three against each other. This time, we start to get the answers that, Harry Wilson, and his team of diplomats, just couldn’t seem to crack in the first book: who, exactly, is at the root of the escalating tensions?
The End of All Things feels quicker than The Human Division, with a faster pace and wider scope, and more explicitly political, as events wind toward a final confrontation. But even with all the political maneuvering, the book still favors the human element of the conflict. We meet several familiar faces: Heather Lee, a Colonial Union soldier; Hafte Sorvalh, a high-ranking Conclave politician; and Harry Wilson and his diplomatic team, back again at the center of the mystery. If the book can be said to have a central character—someone whose emotional and personal journey we track through each story—it is Rafe Daquin, a programmer-turned-ship pilot non-consensually drafted to help exacerbate the relationship between the three main players. His story is a thread throughout, tied to the lives of each character we meet in various ways, not all of them explicit, and the resolution of his arc is a line drawing the novellas together.
What makes The End of All Things, and the entire series, so notable for me is the diverse scope of the world. Scalzi tackles the complications of power, the price of personal choice, political unrest, and interpersonal relationships between all types of characters. However, none of that would matter half as much to me without the diversity also on display. The world is populated by aliens, for sure, but it’s also by a huge sample of humanity. The characters are often painted in broad strokes, so names become the main way we recognize and characterize them, but their representation makes this universe feel true, rich, and real. In the scope of a military science fiction novel, Scalzi doesn’t have to make women integral to the plot. He doesn’t have to make the centerpiece of his diplomatic team a woman of color. The fact that he does, and that I always go into his novels knowing I will see humanity represented, is still refreshing and wonderful. In this series, women and people of color have power and influence and get to use it, and it’s an utter delight to read.
This is a great addition to the Old Man’s War universe, tying off lingering threads, setting the universe on a new path, and, lucky us, leaving the skies clear for further stories that will reveal more about this fascinating universe. The End of All Things is an energetic, inventive entry in the genre. If you’re looking for quality space adventure, John Scalzi delivers a rollicking good time.