Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Cover artist||John Harris (artist)|
|Series||Old Man's War series|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Published||2008 (Tor Books)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Last Colony|
|Followed by||The Human Division|
Zoe's Tale is a parallel retelling of Scalzi's third Old Man's War novel, The Last Colony, written as a first-person narrative from the viewpoint of Zoë Boutin Perry. It follows up on several plot points that were underrepresented in the original novel.
Zoë is the 17-year-old adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan, two former-soldiers-turned-colonists who were the subjects of Scalzi's first book, Old Man's War. Her biological father, Charles Boutin, created a device capable of giving a race of creatures, called the Obin, who are intelligent but not conscious, consciousness. The Obin worshiped him, but he was killed for being a traitor to mankind and wanting to overthrow the Colonial Union. Since Boutin gave consciousness to the Obin, his daughter Zoë became a demigod to them. As such, she is accompanied at all times by a pair of Obin bodyguards, Hickory and Dickory, who also relay all their experiences and feelings back to the rest of the Obin.
After John and Jane are assigned to manage the colony of Roanoke—the first human colony to be settled by colonists from other colonies rather than directly from Earth—Zoë befriends Gretchen en route, and the two soon build romantic relationships with Enzo and Magdy, respectively. On Roanoke, foolhardy Magdy leads the four into peril against what later come to be known as Roanoke's indigenous werewolves. Hickory and Dickory train Zoë to defend herself against these and other alien threats. Later, after a colonist is killed by the werewolves, Magdy and Enzo are among those who head into the woods for revenge. Zoë, Gretchen, Hickory, and Dickory manage to find Enzo and Magdy, who are cornered by the werewolves, without alerting them, but Zoë reveals herself to defuse the situation and the werewolf threat by asserting dominance over Magdy and punishing him, then allowing an injured werewolf to injure Magdy in turn.
When General Gau's Conclave fleet finds Roanoke to demand that it join the Conclave or be destroyed, Zoë witnesses the exchange (a central plot point in the Last Colony) and the Conclave's fleet's destruction from afar, but Enzo is killed as collateral damage during the attack. When General Rybicki soon reveals to John and Jane, and they to Zoë, that the Colonial Union has concealed the fact that General Gau has not destroyed colonies' populations except when they are completely intransigent about joining the Conclave or following its edicts by leaving, John sends Zoë as a credible and costly signal to General Gau to report Rybicki's intelligence that Gau may be assassinated by a close ally. Gau is not surprised at this news, as the Conclave has factionalized since the fleet's failure at Roanoke, but recognizes the import of John's risking of Zoë. Gau and Zoë playact some political drama to out the traitor in Gau's circle, but only the unexpected arrival of a Consu fleet saves them from the traitors' backup plan.
The Consu was intrigued by Zoë's demand that the Obin arrange for her to meet the Consu, as she must have known that they would sacrifice hundreds of themselves to satisfy her, though she did not know what her demand would cost. The Consu offers to give her technology that will save Roanoke from Conclave, non-Conclave, or Colonial Union attack if she will knowingly set one hundred Obin against one hundred Consu criminals for the prize. Zoë will not do so knowingly, nor does she accept the Consu's further offer to give her the technology with a contest if she asks the hundred Obin to suicide for her. Instead, she tells the Obin that she's tired of carrying the weight of her divinity with them and says they owe her nothing. The Obin volunteer anyway and win the prize. The Consu sapping field then saves Roanoke from the Conclave faction's attack.
John and Jane and Zoë leave Roanoke at Gau's invitation to avoid further trouble with the Colonial Union, whose plan to sacrifice Roanoke to boost military recruitment stands revealed.