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, and they navigate the process of becoming young again together.
Once training begins many begin to doubt their reasons for leaving Earth, and this becomes especially acute once the real fighting begins. John is placed at the head of his training platoon and must contend with sadistic drill sergeants and incompetant officers. It is here that the real toll on the “old farts” begins to take place. As John makes his way from battle to battle, the toll of military life, even if it is young, begins to show its futility.
This book is told in first person, and it really adds to the pacing and setting of the story. All the events are new and strange to John, and hence are new and strange to us as the readers. The pace moves quickly, and the reader gets caught up in the breakneck pace of the book.
Scalzi has created a believable world for John and the reader; I can say I was both enthralled and terrified by it. A scene comes to mind where and image of a grotesque cthulu type creature is juxtaposed against a docile deer looking creature, and in the end it was the deer creature that fed on humans. When humans go into the universe it will be exciting, but also nerve wracking because we don’t know what is out there. That is the aura that Scalzi wants to portray, we don’t know.
The bodies that the “old farts” get are fine tuned to be bigger stronger and faster to cope with this world, but even then the mortality rate is so high. As a reader you get just sucked into how depressingly futile the life of Colonial Defender is, but even at the worst the characters and Scalzi seem to keep a morbid kind of humor about their situation. They become used to this new life, no matter how horrible it is.
Don’t think this book is all humor though, Scalzi transforms what is a light satire into a very serious questioning of humanity out in the universe. He contends that humanity in the universe will be too cavalier, and thus will be at war at all times. This is something I think he gets exactly right.
What Scalzi has done here is blend everything that I loved about Ender’s Game (except with old people) and mixed it with a Starship Troopers backdrop. The great thing is that Scalzi channels these two influences so well he avoids turning Old Man’s War into a blatant ripoff.
And it is at this point I state what I disliked about the book, and frankly I don’t have anything bad to say. Some of the writing was a little idiosyncratic and colloquial, but I’ve never found that to be a bad thing. This book really is that good, and it ends way too quickly.
I can’t wait to read more books in the series, and read more of John Scalzi’s books in general.
Read this book!