|Submitted by Archren |
(Apr 28, 2006)
It’s easy to see why so many people have enjoyed reading John Scalzi’s debut novel, “Old Man’s War.” It is a fast read, fun and adventurous, that still manages to tackle a matter very important to a lot of people: aging. Within this military adventure novel, Scalzi uses SF techniques to draw some particularly interesting contrasts between the old and young without ever falling into curmudgeonly griping.
Some have drawn parallels between this book and Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” and in a way the comparison is apt. As we follow a new recruit through a new military system, we see how the world building plays out. In this case, we follow John Perry as he leaves Earth on his 75th birthday to join the Colonial Defense Forces. They won’t enlist anyone younger, and it’s a one-way ticket. Afterwards as far as Earth is concerned, the recruit will be legally dead.
Then we get a tour of his new home: new friends, philosophies, technologies and aliens. Seeing as this is the military, this is all illustrated with fast-paced dialog and some good action sequences. It’s a dangerous universe out there, and the CDF is trying to put together the best possible fighting force to secure humanity’s place in it.
On the surface this is a really enjoyable book, but when you look deeper, there are some deficiencies. It lacks a central plot, sometimes seeming like a sequence of vignettes designed to illustrate particular points. The main character doesn’t undergo much in the way of growth. He’s a Competent Man, even though there’s really no reason that he should be. Why would an advertising copy writer back home happen to have a brilliant tactical mind that impresses all his superior officers, while remaining so good humored that all his troop-mates think the world of him?
Also, the world building is a little shallow. We’re presented with a future, and within that framework things are interesting and consistent. But there’s no mention of a civilian political structure, or any sort of media communication. It isn’t at all clear how one would progress from our present to that future. And Scalzi has a bit of a bad habit of having convenient physics teachers hanging around to provide SF explication. It almost felt like the first book in a series, and it may well be. I can only judge it as a stand-alone for now.
So, while the tone and plot certainly are reminiscent of Heinlein, it doesn’t quite have the philosophical depth that Heinlein was going for in that work (for better or for worse). However, considering the growing life expectancy of Western society, it is great to see more and more works tackling the questions that come with it. This one does it well and enjoyably, but there will be a lot more to say on the topic in the future.