Review: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

IMG_20170709_185956_209Last week I reviewed The Android’s Dream by Scalzi and declared it to be one of my favorite books, not only because of the humor, but because of Scalzi’s attention to detail with the alien races. Old Man’s War was written before AD, but it doesn’t read like it.

I blew through this novel in about four hours (I was on a company trip to Six Flags, and this was my reading material for the 5 hour round-trip). I didn’t want it to end, honestly. There was so much going on, and so many details crammed into the novel, that I wanted things to continue on infinitely. (This is the beginning of a series, though, so hopefully we’ll see more of it!)

This novel centers around John Perry, a 75-year-old human who decides, on his birthday, to join up with the Colony Defense Force (CDF) and leave everything behind, because he’s heard that if you join, you become young again (the CDF is primarily composed of geriatrics for this reason). John makes friends with several others on the way to their basic training, and they call themselves the “Old Farts Club.” I will admit it’s a little narcissistic to name your main character (in one of your first novels, nonetheless) after yourself, but it works here. “John” is about as nondescript and boring of a name as you can get, and it really helps to punch home the fact that he’s just one among thousands signing up every day to fight a war he really doesn’t want to fight.

IMG_20170709_185956_210There are several epiphanies from John throughout the novel, one of which I photographed to include in this post, blacking out the name of the person who died and a slight curse word). The one included does not spoil anything, at least from my perspective. John continues to struggle with why the CDF is, essentially, genociding numerous alien races in the name of protection, but he learns within the pages of the novel not to question what he’s told. (I’m hoping this is something the subsequent novels pick up with.)

When we finally get around to seeing how the CDF uses these elderly grandparents in their battles, it’s surprising, but not entirely unexpected (at least to me; maybe you won’t see it coming). We get to follow John’s journey in first person, which is great. The humor Scalzi uses in Android’s Dream is present here, just in smaller doses.

The one complaint I have with this novel is the pacing. Sometimes, we get long, drawn-out detailed battles, and other times we get things cut short. The battle at the end of the novel in particular suffers from it being too short. We’re told rather than shown what happens in this battle, and it takes you away from the action. It almost seemed [mild spoiler alert] like a Rogue One-type setup [/spoiler] at the end, but everything was so rushed, I had to reread the few pages dedicated to the battle a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I was concerned when I reached the set-up of the final battle that there weren’t enough pages left, and I was right. While the battle is completed in those final pages, it doesn’t do it satisfactorily enough for me. I almost would have preferred being left on a cliffhanger to having the battle pared down to almost nothing.

Then again, it’s in first person, so maybe that’s why the battle is done that way.

This book has two different ratings from me: For sci-fi fans, I strongly recommend this book with a 4.5/5 star rating, particularly if you like aliens and space travel. The alien races are well thought-out, and although their politics aren’t as deeply integrated into the novel as in Android’s Dream, there’s still plenty here. Several characters throughout the novel attempt to explain how the jump drives on the ships (as well as alternate universes) work, so there’s some mention of physics.

For everyone else, I’d still recommend this book, but I put it at about 3.5/5 stars and add with a warning: if you’re not a fan of action/adventure stories that don’t necessarily have a happy ending, don’t pick this book up, as you’ll end up disappointed.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and cannot wait to go back to Barnes & Noble and finish out my set.

***

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-and aliens willing to fight for them are common. The universe, it turns out, is a hostile place.

So: we fight. To defend Earth (a target for our new enemies, should we let them get close enough) and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force, which shields the home planet from too much knowledge of the situation. What’s known to everybody is that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve your time at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine-and what he will become is far stranger.

  • Series: Old Man’s War (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; Reprint edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765315243

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