Old Man's War by John Scalzi

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Book Information  
AuthorJohn Scalzi
TitleOld Man's War
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Michael Crow (Wrath) 
(Feb 21, 2008)

John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Force, at the age of 75. The CDF takes the elderly Perry and turns him into a killing machine that any Starship Trooper would be proud to see. While amazed with his new body he struggles with being less than human. Perry goes off to war fighting the enemies of humanity and deals with the horrors of war.

Fans of Heinlein should find Scalzi's style and story highly entertaining. He manages to give Old Man's War the air of a hard sci-fi story without the technical jargon so many others use. There is no need for a degree in rocket science to understand this book. However, the explaination of the science involved does not seem to have been dumbed down or overly handwavist (if such a word exists).

Old Man's War is without a doubt one the best sci-fi novels I have read in well over a decade. There is plenty of action and the character developement gets you invested in the story. Scalzi's crystal clear and easy to read style makes Old Man's War a great new entery into the sci-fi genre.

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.

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