By: John Scalzi
Truthfully, science fiction has been pretty sparse in my reading list as of late. Instead, it’s been laden with lots of fantasy. I’m not going to complain. If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have discovered books like Name of the Wind. But, my roots are in science fiction. I cut my roots on Asimov’s robot series’ before moving on to some of the more delicate stuff by the likes of Heinlein. (By delicate, I mean what I consider to be not hard scifi.) So, with a mind to read more of the science fiction side of the scifi/fantasy realm, I began a search for some of the better scifi writers out there. Inevitably, Scalzi’s name came up. And with it, the Old Man’s War series, of which Old Man’s War is the first.
From the back cover blurb:
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.
It’s obvious, then, where the title comes from. It’s a tale of the old, their lives used up on Earth, joining the Colonial Defense Forces in hopes of a renewed youth. With only the vaguest of rumors promising a better (not old) life, the senior citizens join the CDF and become the fighting force of the future. The story follows John Perry through his enlistment, into the “changes” that are made to him and the other recruits, and then on into battle and beyond.
You’ll read everywhere that Scalzi’s writing is comparable to Heinlein’s writing. True. Scalzi has a way with the written word that solidifies the story and leads the reader on. It creates a story that is easy to read and that you want to keep reading until it’s done. The story is much less about the actual science behind it all, although it gets a fair bit of billing, and more about the human response to the science. We’re taken on a journey as people who have already lived a full life on Earth are, essentially, given a new life adjust to their surroundings and overcome their preconceived notions about what can and can’t be done. It carries on into their life as troops, but with action scenes that are quickly overshadowed by the undercurrent of humanity. (I’m sounding a bit syrupy, I know.) Nevertheless, if you are looking for a spectacularly written science fiction novel for no other reason than good science and well written battles, you won’t be disappointed.
What I found most impacting is the realism that Scalzi gives the story. There are no smoke and mirrors, but instead, we are shown how it really might be; Blood, Guts, and Gore. There are few cookie cutter elements in a science fiction novel that are more horrible than the eminently evil space alien. Scalzi does well in avoiding that trap and several others.
Overall, the novel is a good to great science fiction novel. It’s an excellent novel in total. The one downside that I felt was that it was a bit short. Part of this is likely due to it’s paltry 320 pages as compared to some of the 600+ page fantasy epics that I’ve been reading lately. But, I also felt that there were some elements that could have been expounded on. Either way, I’ll be picking up the next book (Ghost Brigades) and reading it. In fact, it’s already on it’s way via Paperbackswap!