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Old Man's War

A book by John Scalzi

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Intellectual Stealth Warfare

  • May 22, 2011
  • by
I read Old Man's War years ago because I had heard so many good things about it.  It was mentioned in the same breath with Starship Troopers (the book) and The Forever War.  Since the 90s I have been suspicious of books I hear good things about.  It is as though there has been a gradual star inflation since the early 70s.  Books that would have gotten 4 stars in 1973 get 5 stars today and 3 stars back then get 4 stars today.

Well I read Old Man's War and I was not surprised to be disappointed.  It was an entertaining military science fiction story but nothing to write home about and certainly not to be compared to The Forever War.  It was just too shallow.  It is somewhat better than Starship Troopers, THE MOVIE.  Consequently I paid very little attention to The Ghost Brigades when it appeared and even less to The Last Colony.  These were mistakes.

Old Man's War did introduce an application of technologies that enable the story which I found questionable.  The basis of the story is people on Earth over 70 years old having their minds transfered into young genetically engineered bodies.  In a sense they pay for this rejuvenation by risking their lives fighting against aliens.  Now I am willing to entertain the possibility of copying minds if this might be possible at all, but an actual transfer makes no sense.  So I was wondering if they just killed the old body and kept the ugly truth a secret.  My second problem with the story was an intelligent life form a couple of inches in size such that human soldiers could simply step on them.  How could an intelligent life form be that small?  Sorry, but I can't accept that on the basis of what is currently understood about biology.

Our hero, John Perry, went with his wife and applied to become soldiers when they turned 65 though they had no idea how this immortality process worked.  But his wife, Kathy, died of a stroke two years later so at 75 he went alone to begin his military career.  A few days later he learned that ten years earlier his genes were sampled for use creating a super-human clone of himself.  He just had to be transferred into that body.  Of course that means there should have been a clone of his wife somewhere, but she was dead.

Well there hangs a tale.

Old Man's War continues in an entertaining blood, guts and glory fashion but it is not competition for Hammers Slammer's.

The situation is somewhat different in The Ghost Brigade because unsurprisingly, John Perry's wife has become a ghost known as Jane Sagan.  Creating clone bodies can't be cheap so they don't let those bodies go to waste.  These adult bodies without transfered minds get trained to be soldiers also and of course John Perry met his wife's living body in the last story.  She threw his silly ass across the room.  Perry does not show up in this sequel, however.  But this episode does raise the question of free will because these clones never got to volunteer for the military.  They were drafted before they were born.  But since they do not have old minds they have certain advantages.  Super bodies are all they know and they don't have 70 years of bad habits with unengineered bodies.  They are blank slates to be programmed for war.

They are The Ghost Brigades.

Full grown newborns in the cloned bodies of dead people.  Kind of creepy!

This story begins with Jane kidnapping and torturing an alien scientist.  This scientist becomes important to chasing down a human scientist that has gone renegade and turned traitor.  He is doing scientific research for the aliens which can be a military threat to humans.

So a complicated procedure is tried to track him down.  But now it is possible to see clues that were dropped in Old Man's War indicating that this series has more depth and is more complex than one would have thought.  Why would the scientist betray his species to serve aliens?  How ethical is the human government in pursuing its claimed objectives?

The Last Colony takes these issues to the next level.  Jane was able to cut a deal with the military hierarchy that got her and John Perry out of the endless war alive.  They arranged a comfortable life in a nice colony with a little farm and everything was nice and normal except for the two aliens they have living with them.  Hey it's science fiction, things can't be too normal.  But of course they cannot be left alone.

The Colonial Union wants them to lead a new colony.  Everything looks fine if just slightly politically complicated until they get to the planet they are supposed to colonize.  It is the WRONG PLANET.  The CU is using them as pawns in a complicated plot.  It seems to work but blowback is a b--ch!  The enemy is far more pissed off than expected.

The Old Man's War trilogy is about the government knowing what is best for EVERYBODY and hiding lots of important information and distributing lots of distorted information to make the pawns move the way they are supposed to.  Of course this gets plenty of loyal pawns killed, but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.  That is all very fine as long as you are not one of the eggs.

I guess it is time for the revenge of the eggs.

So although the first book is a decent if shallow story it is an introduction and setup for deeper things to come.  It is not difficult to compare the secret machinations in OMW to the present day and the political wargames of the last 100 years.  How long are the eggs going to put up with this crap.  But complain and get called a conspiracy theorist.  LOL

I think there was another factor that affected my opinion of Old Man's War when I first read it.  Near that time I also read a book from Kieth Laumer's Bolo universe.  Laumer began this series back in the 60s before the microcomputer revolution got off the ground and the nanotechnology fad began.  Back then computers were BIG but so were TANKS.  So the idea of a computerized tank that eventually had Artificial Intelligence was not too far fetched as science fiction.  But Old Man's War has genetically engineered soldiers with nearly intelligent computers called BrainPals built into their skulls.  So where are the ROBOTIC FIGHTING MACHINES?  We have cruise missiles now.  Those are really terrain following flying robots.  I would be very surprised if there is no research on robotic mini-tanks about the size of lawn tractors with built in machine guns today.  So a future 200 years away without battle robots seems a bit absurd to me.

So the OMW trilogy is about the same length as Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion.  I listened to Hyperion via audio book, I don't think I could have read it.  Old Man's War held my attention.  It is not as LITERARY as Hyperion but the story is far better suited to my unpoetic tastes.   So

Old Man's War == 3
The Ghost Brigade == 4
The Last Colony == 4.5

Old Man's War is similar to Hyperion in that you shouldn't stop with the first book but it isn't as annoying as Hyperion since there is some degree of closure with the first book but nowhere near the whole story is there.

The idea of genetically engineered super bodies is not as much science fiction as it used to be.

Intellectual Stealth Warfare Intellectual Stealth Warfare Intellectual Stealth Warfare

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May 25, 2011
Lol! The way you describe the aliens reminds me of Plankton in Spongebob Squarepants. Balanced review though. I might put the series on my Wishlist.
More Old Man's War reviews
review by . May 14, 2011
posted in SF Signal
I have to be honest, I’m really sad that I didn’t read this book sooner. John Scalzi’s 2005 novel Old Man’s Warencompasses everything that is good about military SciFi, and I’m very happy that I read it. John Perry is 75 years old and joining the Colonial Defense Force after his wife dies. The CDF promise a return to youthfulness, but the cost is never being able to return to Earth. John meets a motley crew of “old farts” on the way to begin training, …
review by . June 15, 2010
Pros: A fantastic mix of story, comedy, and somberness     Cons: None     The Bottom Line: This novel surprised me in many ways and I enjoyed every second of it.     I shouldn't be, I really shouldn't be, but I have an image in my mind of what a science fiction novel includes.  I'm a total moron for thinking that, but at least I know it.  Suffice to say, I expected something completely different when I finally got around to reading …
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Starred Review. Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi's astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master. Seventy-five-year-old John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Force because he has nothing to keep him on Earth. Suddenly installed in a better-than-new young body, he begins developing loyalty toward his comrades in arms as they battle aliens for habitable planets in a crowded galaxy. As bloody combat experiences pile up, Perry begins wondering whether the slaughter is justified; in short, is being a warrior really a good thing, let alone being human? The definition of "human" keeps expanding as Perry is pushed through a series of mind-stretching revelations. The story obviously resembles such novels asStarship TrooperandTime Enough for Love, but Scalzi is not just recycling classic Heinlein. He's working out new twists, variations that startle even as they satisfy. The novel's tone is right on target, too—sentimentality balanced by hardheaded calculation, know-it-all smugness moderated by innocent wonder. This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF's past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they're approached with ingenuity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0765348276
ISBN-13: 978-0765348272
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction

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