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Old Man's War

A book by John Scalzi

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Old Man's War

  • May 14, 2011

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.

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May 21, 2011
I have finished The Ghost Brigades and am working on The Last Colony.

I read Old Man's War years ago because there was so much hoopla about it but I found it disappointing. It is entertaining but not intellectually interesting. The Ghost Brigades is better. Because OMW was about old people soon to being given new bodies in exchange for going to war there were really no moral issues on the part of the soldiers. Ghost Brigades is different and starts airing the dirty laundry of the Colonial Union.

I guess I will have to write a triple review of the trilogy.
May 21, 2011
I agree that OMW is pretty shallow, I graded it so high on its fun factor more than anything. I'm excited to read more into the series and see how it develops.
May 17, 2011
Beware of a culture that LOVES war. It projects paranoia on the universe. Old Man's War is entertaining but I think Killer Thing by Kate Wilhelm is deeper. Old Man's War is different form so much other military SF because the warriors are old people not young gung ho dummies the REAL WARS run on.
May 14, 2011
sounds pretty interesting! Great posts in SFSignal! welcome to the site!
More Old Man's War reviews
review by . May 22, 2011
Intellectual Stealth Warfare
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 …
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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Ian Peterson ()
Ranked #535
I write a Science Fiction culture blog called SciFiReaders.
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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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