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To Stand or Fall (The End of All Things, #4)…

To Stand or Fall (The End of All Things, #4)

by John Scalzi

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The final instalment in his The End of All Things series, John Scalzi's To Stand or Fall picks up the threads of the first three instalments and weaves them into a final, satisfying resolution.

At this point, after the first three novellas we know: the shadowy Equilibrium group are waging asymmetric war on both the human Colonial Union and the alien Conclave and have been since the events of The Human Division, principally by putting brains in jars and forcing them to control stolen starships; we know that the Conclave is beset by internal tensions and that Hafte Sorvalh, the new Chairperson, has been forced to reject the official advances of both Earth and the Colonial Union while remaining open to side-channel diplomacy; and that the planets of the Colonial Union are increasingly unsatisfied with their near-fascist political masters, with a number of them preparing to secede from from the CU. With the return of Lieutenant Harry Wilson and Ambassador Ode Abumwe, both of whom appeared as minor characters in previous episodes, To Stand or Fall Scalzi uses familiar characters from previous stories set in the Old Man's War universe to pull the three stories together.

Having discovered that Equilibrium plan to use an act of genocide to trigger a war between the Conclave and the Colonial Union - a war which promises to destroy both entities, allowing Equilibrium's backers to re-assume what they see as their rightful place in the universe - Abumwe calls a crash meeting with the two most influential apparatchiks in the CU's bureaucracy: Colonels Liz Egan and Abel Rigny, the true powers behind the throne. Presenting a brutally honest assessment of the situation, Abumwe comes up with a ploy which may help defeat Equilibrium's planned act of genocide but if and only if the Conclave and the governments of Earth can be persuaded to trust the Union. In order to achieve this and to hold the Colonial Union together in the face of growing internal tensions, Abumwe insists on radical internal political reforms to the Union and improvements in relations between the governing and the governed.

Ultimately, The End of All Things ends on a positive note: as Scalzi says, he zagged when people might have assumed that he was going to zig. This seems to mark an inflection point in the Old Man's War universe; a shift from the Heinlein-esque political sensibilities of the first book to something more human and more conciliatory.

Although much of the politics, especially the colony's declarations of independence coupled with Abumwe's insistence on reform, can be read as obvious echo of American history, it's also obvious an optimistic take on post-millennial politics, expressing the hope that disparate groups of people can set aside their differences and reasons for distrusting one another for long enough to forge positive political relationships.

It's also worth noting that Scalzi's and Tor's experiment with the format feels like a success: the novella-length chunks are sufficiently substantial to make for satisfying reads; at the same time the story is obvious structured in a way that allows this work, following one group of characters through a particular arc of plot whilst still allowing everything to converge in a final resolution.

The flip side of this structure is that Scalzi relies on a familiarity with the some of the existing characters - particularly Harry Wilson and the diplomatic troubleshooters from The Human Division - in order to avoid the need to include lengthy introductions. All of which means that The End of All Things isn't the place to start with the Old Man's War universe, but then it was never its intention. ( )
  sawyl | Aug 10, 2015 |
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