John had given me Zoe's Tale that weekend, inscribed and all, and he swears he'd told me before that I was in the dedication, but when I opened the book (which is dedicated "for Karen Meisner and Anne KG Murphy And most especially for Athena") it struck me as does something you hadn't realized before, and I was sincerely touched.
I was even more touched once I'd read the book (which I'd meant to save for while camping this coming weekend, but once I started I couldn't put it down), and after I finished it and called John to chew him out for making me cry three times in an hour it occurred to me that I also wanted to point out, here, that I think this is John's best book so far (as, I believe, does he), and you should get it and read it and give it to all your teens and tweens and, well, just do. Because it's one of the best things I've read in years and I am, as John and several other author friends have told me, a harsh reader, so despite the obvious bias of my being John's friend and being in the dedication and all, I still think it's true. Zoe's Tale is everything fine literature should be, and hard-hitting SF to boot.
It's not that it stands alone apart from The Last Colony, in that there are holes in each other that both books fill (they happen in parallel time, told from different perspectives), but I think you can read Zoe's Tale first. And if that makes you want to read the rest of the "Old Man's War" series, well, that's fine too.