Old Man's War by John Scalzi is the first book in a series of sci-fi novels set in the far future exploring humanity’s first steps towards joining a galactic community. It has action, adventure, unique science, very unique aliens, politics, witty dialogue, and all with just a touch of romance / lust.
The story follows John Perry, 75 year old Earthling and brand new Colonial Defence Force recruit. His wife has been dead for a while now, he has said goodbye to the rest of his family and friends, and he is ready to leave Earth to go fight aliens on the other side of the universe. There is a lot speculation as to why the CDF only recruits people who reach 75 years of age; do they refurbish your body so that your experienced brain can make better use of it, is it population and resource control, or will you just be cannon fodder? Well... its probably a combination of the three, and in short time John and his new friends are undergoing intensive infantry training in preparation for skirmishes with bold aliens all over the universe.
One of the things I think Scalzi communicates well in this story is the sense of scale. This universe feels enormous, the beanstalk is impressive, the space stations seem enormous, and the space battles feel so panoramic. The science is also made to seem very impressive and out of reach, with Scalzi being deliberately vague as to the specifics of how things work, but very detailed in how valuable the outputs of these sciency things are. In contrast to that, Scalzi is able to zoom in tightly on characters for ground skirmishes, making everything seems very small and close with little room to move.
John Perry is a good guy, an every man, a born fighter and a natural leader. He makes friends easily, he commands respect wherever he goes, and his tactical nous on the battlefield is very strong. We get to share the surprises and wonders in the story with him, we share in his losses through the story, and we most definitely share in his wins through the story. That said, John seems to be just a little too perfect, just a little too quick with the answer to a deadly problem, and just a little too natural a leader. He always makes the right decisions, he always overcomes improbably odds, and he is always left standing at the end whilst people are dying around him. I liked him, but I just wish he was a little more fallible.
The strength of any Scalzi novel, for me, is the dialogue, and Old Man's War is no different. Scalzi puts a lot of time and effort into crafting personalities, and the banter between personalities is quick, witty, and often time profound. Whether its talking about calorie-laden breakfasts or trying to be diplomatic with an aggressive alien species, the dialogue is never in the backseat position and I think that's a good thing. I know I laughed out loud on more than one occasion.
Old Man's War is a lot of fun, a science fiction novel that doesn't require you to think too hard about the science. This is probably a weak point for those who prefer their science fiction to be very accurate and specific, but for those looking to get into the genre I think this would be a very good starter book.
Review by Ryan Lawler
Phil from New Zealand
I loved this book, as well as the other three that follow it. I see that other people had problems with it, and I find it difficult to understand what the problems were. Reading some other reviews, I get the feeling that they didn't read the same book I did. I just don't recognize what they're describing. I don't know what they were expecting. I was expecting a fun science-fiction story, with good guys and bad guys, and that's what I got. There are a lot of good ideas in the book, some of which can be traced back to older science fiction, but, for me that's a plus. The story starts with an odd situation -- there is a thing called the Colonial Defense Forces, which is a military organization protecting Earth, and the colonies. It isn't clear just how they do that. You can't join until you're at least 75 years old, and you can't learn much about it all until you join. Furthermore, you will probably never come back to Earth if you do join. The main character joins up -- his wife has died and he has no one who will miss him -- so why not. He gets a new body, with some super-human abilities, which he will need, and begins fighting the aliens who are intent on wiping out the colonies that Earth has planted on other planets. I found the characters fun, the humor quite good, the dialog, as usual with Scalzi, is marvelous, the plot lines logical and interesting. This is old-style adventure sci-fi, and it is well done. I loved reading it. This is the first book of a quadrilogy, and all four books are very well written, and very enjoyable to read. The four books are "Old Man's War," The Ghost Brigades," The Last Colony" and "Zoe's Tale". There are also some short works that are set in the same universe, but are not required reading to complete the story.
9.5/10 from 2 reviews