May 3rd, 2006, 12:21 PM
Prefers to be anomalous
I don't normally read military sf, and was surprised that I enjoyed this one. This might be because its focus is on the characters more than the action, which I also enjoyed.
1) I really had fun with the humor. The conversations between the Old Farts were whip-smart clever, the way I like it irl. Being middle-aged myself, I enjoyed their unashamed pokes at aging, too. I especially liked that although the sfnal stuff was well thought through, the overall approach was lighter, and didn't take itself too seriously: green new bodies, tiny aliens, comic book hero, lots of tongue-in-cheek aimed at sf tropes.
2) I didn't have any problems with the future premise, and enjoyed the play-by-play approach to introducing us to it throught the eyes of John. The inside view of what it felt like to be transferred to a new body was really interesting. I liked the open approach to sexuality too, and that once the new bodies provided the means, the old folks couldn't wait to jump into bed with each other. It was a nice way to show that older people are still inherently as sexual as ever, in spite of the body's decline.
3) I was wondering why it was nominated. I enjoyed the book a lot, but its humor and "lightness" seems out of keeping with the usual books chosen. It'll be a tough year for Scalzi to be up against popular Martin, fabulous Spin, and groundbreaking Accelerando. I haven't started Learning the World yet, but I expect it will be special also.
At its heart, I think this was a book about a man's love for his dead wife, moreso than a military story. I excused the improbable discovery of his "wife" because it was necessary in order to tell the story of a man who yearned for a woman who was lost to him. However, I don't believe that the two of them, essentially now fighting machines in their new bodies, have much chance of happily retiring to a farm, with or without each other. And of course Jane has a lot to learn about being human.
At first I was excited that there is a sequel about the Ghost Brigades, but it appears it's from the point of view of one of the GBs. It seems like the attention to human foibles and valor which made me like Old Man's War must necessarily be absent from the sequel, so I'm not sure I'll read it. If Mr. Scalzi joins our discussion, I'd be interested in hearing him address this concern.
*edit* I was telling a friend about this book last night, and he told me that John Ringo has a book or books about this very idea: old folks in young bodies fighting a war.
Last edited by intensityxx; May 3rd, 2006 at 12:29 PM.
May 3rd, 2006, 01:12 PM
\m/ BEER \m/
Interesting thing I'm noticing...
Members who have read some Military SF or have served in the military had more problems than civilians who haven't read much Military SF.
May 3rd, 2006, 02:13 PM
the puppet master
May 4th, 2006, 04:44 AM
Of course, of course. You are right. In fact I really liked the book (gave it 4.5/5) but that doesn't meand I can't see the flaws in it. In fact, I was somehow trying to "dissect" it in order to figure out why it works so well
May 4th, 2006, 05:09 AM
Member of the Month™
I think it reads as a straightforward book with a clear central idea, and as such wears its flaws on its sleeve. It seems that most people enjoyed this book despite the list of faults.
Originally Posted by odo
May 4th, 2006, 01:24 PM
No question there: it was a fun, enjoyable read that went quickly. I had recently finished reading Accelerando, which is amazing SF, but *whew!* a heck of a slog to read.
May 4th, 2006, 09:41 PM
Prefers to be anomalous
[hijack] Interesting, coming from a physicist. I never took physics - learned my measly bit from sf - but I really wanted to read Accelerando because Stross is post-human and godly, himself. I read the first half of Accelerando, slowly, so I could make sense of it all. I set it down to take a break from the work of it...and haven't returned yet (almost a year later). But wow, amazing stuff. [/hijack]
Originally Posted by Archren
May 5th, 2006, 12:23 PM
I'll post more detailed stuff in the June BOTM discussion (Accelerando is up next), but I'll say that I think the reason I found it difficult was that I'm a little unfamiliar with bleeding-edge Computer Science jargon/stuff, but more because the characters were largely unsympathetic.
Unlike the main characters of OMW, who were really very likeable. (Doncha love my *subtle* attempt to go back On Topic? )
May 31st, 2006, 10:05 PM
Since I read *Old Man's War* back in April, it's a little foggy now ... I rated it as Fair back then ... After reading the first few posts I wondered if I should reconsider and skimmed over some of it again ... Naahhh! Still Fair!
I do think it's about as well written as *Starship Troopers*. That is only rated a 'Classic' because it spawned the military SF sub-genre. Otherwise, it would be considered one of Heinlein's competent juveniles.
Effective use of humour? I hadn't realized Scalzi was trying to be funny. Sure there were ample wisecracks but to me these seemed more an illustration of bravado ... Scared? Me, scared? Oh no, I'm too busy being a smartass!
Plausible future? The new bodies*TM did seem to be a believable development, but the skirmishes with innumerable alien races were all a bit cartoony ... Stomping 2" aliens? Futurama*TM war!
Hugo winner? Who knows? The Hugo is a popularity contest, not a quality analysis ... If I really cared who won, I'd pay up so I could vote ... But I don't care enough to shell out. Those who do pay for the privilege of voting have every right to pick their favourite, whether or not it's great SF.
June 1st, 2006, 10:02 AM
Hi, I made it....and it's only June.
Well, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this one. While reading it, I had no complaints at all. I approached it for what it was, which to me was a fun romp, and noticed nothing that took me out of that mindset. Maybe the physics are off, maybe the idea of old people in new bodies isn't so workable, but I didn't care one bit.
Humor: It really cracked me up on a number of occasions, more toward the beginning of the book than the end. I thought there were several kinds of humor that worked really quite well, from the asshole comments early on to the sadly pathetic humor of the war against the little aliens.
There were some above who point out that they felt it was only an episodic war chronicle type of story. I really have to disagree with that reading. I thought it was a really moving story about an old man missing his wife....or maybe I'm just a big softie. There was a point in the middle of my reading of the book that I started to get a little disappointed at the lack of structure. In the end, though, when he remet his "wife" and they had their little talks and such, Scalzi had me back. There was very nice closure given the opening of the book (standing at his wife's grave).
I have to admit, I also don't read much, if any military SF. And I liked it, so add another one to that column.
November 21st, 2006, 12:13 PM
Of the 15 or so books I've read to date in my attempt to play catch-up with this book club, Old Man's War was the most enjoyable. I'm surprised some posters failed to see the humor in the book. I thought Scalzi's sense of humor was one of this novel's stronger points and truly appreciated the subtle and, ocassionally, not-so-subtle instances, everything from our protagonist's initial conversation with the woman at the enrollment office, through his occasionally darkly gruesome encounters with the aliens, to his generally flip attitude toward his own seeming death on more than one occasion. It went a long way toward humanizing John Perry and creating a world that, while arguably not as realistic as most SF novels, was engaging nevertheless. Scalzi's science and the cool futuristic concepts also went a long way toward making this such a terrific read.
Scalzi offers some great future notions and, while I found most fascinating, the one that really bothered me was his explanation of the skip drive - specifically, the notion that faster than light travel is attained by popping in and out of alternate universes. This seems more a sideways solution to the FTL problem in that, so far as I recall, there is no real explanation given for the ability to jump universes - and jump distances within universes! It's the old Hollywood time travel suspect logic where the time traveler leaves the present at one location, only to end up in the past or future at some completely different yet invariably interesting location. Also, and this goes to a bigger problem I have with FTL as presented in this book - everytime the characters skip, they're in a different universe thus dealing with different characters and scenarios. They may not be obviously different but the fact is the friends Perry makes along the way aren't the same friends he encounters later in the novel. They're alternate versions. Scalzi offers the Homer Simpson "Enh, close enough" argument which doesn't really work for me. But aside from that quibble, I thought the SF concepts in this book were very cool.
My other quibble with Old Man's War was our protagonist's fortuitous encounter with his ex-wife (or her body at least). My pet peeve when it comes to writing has always been the use of coincidences or contrivances to further the plot and, while I too appreciated what this encounter lent to the story, it still bothered me.
I've never read Heinlein but I did see Starship Troopers and noticed some similarities. This was my first foray into military SF and I loved it, so I'm looking forward to reading The Forever War on my 13 hours flight to Hong at week's end.
Last edited by LordBalthazar; November 21st, 2006 at 01:00 PM.
June 20th, 2008, 02:25 PM
John Scalzi - Old Man's War
---"Then Maggie turned, faced the planet that would kill her, and like the good professor of Eastern religions that she used to be, she composed jisei, the death poem, in the haiku form.
-----Do not mourn me, friends
-----I fall as a shooting star
-----Into the next life
---She sent it and the last moments of her life to the rest of us, and then she died, hurtling brightly across the Temperance night sky.
---She was my friend. Briefly, she was my lover. She was braver than I ever would have been in the moment of death. And I bet she was a hell of a shooting star."---(pg.163,164)
My pile of unread books is not getting any smaller, if anything it's growing on a weekly basis, since I like to buy books faster than I can read them. That's o.k. though, because I like a vast array of books to choose from. When I was deciding what to read next, I was consciously looking for a short, entertaining and fast paced SF novel, as opposed to the sprawling fantasy epics I've been reading lately (e.g. "The Bonehunters"); and you know what, "Old Man's War" turned out to be all that and more.
"Old Man's War" is the Hugo Award nominated debut effort (it lost to "Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson in 2006) from the veteran blogger (Whatever) and the prestigious John W. Campbell Award winning author in the category for Best New Writer in 2006, John Scalzi. The novel garnered much praise and was later serialized/followed by "The Ghost Brigades" in 2006 and "The Last Colony" in 2007, but that is a story for another time...
The main premise (catch) behind the story of "Old Man's War" is -- as the title already implies -- how to make old people useful again for the society. The story is told through the eyes of John Perry, a 75 year old geezer, who enlists into Colonial Defense Forces for the same reason as many of the 75 year olds do - the prospect of getting young again. The fear of dying is stronger than all the moral and religious objections that one might have had towards army servitude and all that goes with it when young and full of ideals. We then follow his journey towards the training facility, the whole process of "rejuvenation" and all the consequences this corporeal change brings to a couple of thousand people with very alienated relationship towards their bodies; forming of new friendships (the clique of "Old Farts", as they name themselves) and finally John's participation in intergalactic war where the race of men battles myriad of diverse and rapacious alien races for the right of colonization and expansion. What makes all this work on a whole another level is John's personality and his view on events as the they unfold. He is a thoughtful and very likable protagonist with a great sense of humor (subtle and witty, not the all over the place hilarious).
The conscripts exchange witty banter throughout the novel and this makes for a very refreshing read. Characterization, or rather the main protagonist, is without a doubt the biggest strength of the novel, before all other aspects - such as style, elements of "hard science", plotting or the lackluster worldbuilding. What I found a bit strange is that the the "old" people act, think and feel no different than a 25 year old person would; but I've also heard that people often feel young (and even immature) regardless to their advanced age and a life time of experience, so this minor gripe of mine might not really be a real problem of plausibility. Some of the side characters feel somewhat flat and one-sided though. For example, one of the side characters' most notable trait is his rampant appetite (or at least this is the only thing I've remembered him after) and Scalzi later on "offs" him by having some strange, sentient slime mold jump into his mouth and down his throat, suffocating him.
The world that Scalzi creates does not awe the reader, but although the worldbuilding doesn't play a major role in the narrative it still serves it well and compliments the plot and characterization, so that it leaves more than enough room for character interplay. Some of the body modifications and enhancements that the soldiers receive are pretty cool - something that every athlete (SmartBloodTM, green skin, HardArmTM) or whiz kid (BrainPalTM - an internal computer, incorporated into your body) would kill for, but it's really nothing that hasn't been done before. The universe is large and dangerous, inhabited by (mostly) belligerent alien races that kill, eat each other and contend for scarce resources and inhabitable living space. This pessimistic world-view and the harshness of the struggle is covered up well with lighter elements, such as John Perry's witty musings and the bantering dialogues between characters. Scalzi actually makes good use of info-dumps (tell, rather than show), but they are low on tech-speech, relevant and unobtrusive to the narrative. He makes this approach work for him and that's what matters the most.
As I've already mentioned, the dialogue is really effective in its companionable nature and keeps you turning the pages as much as the fast-paced, economical narrative and the likable protagonist. "Old Man's War" is an extremely likable military sf novel; a younger, more playful version of "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman, with a more sympathetic hero and ultimately more enjoyable story, but it also has a lesser degree of scientific detail and societal speculation. So while "Old Man's War" offers nothing exceptionally new or mind-blowing to the genre it nonetheless kept me well within the comfort zone and this counts for a lot in my book, since I am not easily entertained for, oh, I don't know...it's been a while now (the old Grumpy syndrome, I know ). Recommended? Hell yeah.
Last edited by thrinidir; June 20th, 2008 at 02:33 PM.
November 3rd, 2009, 01:55 AM
May 06 SF BOTM Old Mans War by John Scalzi
Old Mans War by John Scalzi is a very very good book. Just a warning though, do not start reading "just a couple pages before falling asleep." Your couple pages will turn into anywhere between 50 and the whole rest of the book. It seems like you are always at that "oh I cant wait to see what happens next" stage in the book. In other words, it is a very compelling read.
Ok, about the book. It is sometime in the future. There are colonies on other planets, but only people from countries that have really crappy natural resources get to leave Earth to colonize them. The only way to get off of Earth if you live in a resource rich country is to wait until your 75th birthday and sign up with the corporation that handles all interstellar flight. Once you sign up, you are declared legally dead on Earth and you can never come back. Nobody really knows what happens to the people who leave Earth, but just about every 74 year old really wants to sign up because, "well what they hell Im old and Im going to die soon anyway."
As I said, this is a very compelling read, and I cant recommend it enough. If you like Sci-Fi in the least you will more than likely love this book.
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