on 10 May 2013
Read on its own and not in the context of all the similar books that have proceeded it, this is a fun, military SF novel, about mankind in a universe filled with nasty aliens that in most cases MUST BE DESTROYED. The book is solidly written and entertaining, however I would comment on my 4 star rating in saying that I regard it as a low 4 stars in that I debated between 3 and 4 stars.
Essentially what seems to be lacking in this book is some really inventive and new SF ideas. Perhaps I've read too much and I'm a little jaded now! The novels that it clearly draws from are in short more original, more inventive and clearly better. For a book written in 2005 there is no real attempt to push out new ideas about how technology may impact on us in the future. The new tech in the book, skip drives, nano tech cloning dna splicing etc have all been explored before by other writers in the 90s.
However, the most disapointing feature I thought was that nothing was made of the difference between "old" soldiers and the very young soldiers that most Armies have fought with and indeed the characters seem to return to a near teen state of mind once they get their new bodies. I thought there was going to be some really interesting stuff there and it never appears sadly.
That said if read purely as an military adventure novel, then its a fairly gripping read. Similarly to someone less well versed in SF then they might not have the "seen it all before" response that I had to parts of it.
It has taken me a long time to get round to reading this. It has an odd reputation, some regard it as a SF classic and yet others as piece of very superficial military SF. I fall between the two, I read it fairly quickly as it is a very easy and undemanding read with some interesting ideas. Having said that they are not necessarily fresh and it is not a pure classic like Forever War that has stuck in my head years after having read it.
So, here we have geriatrics being recruited to undertake some changes and regain their youth provided they become soldiers in wars being fought a long way from Earth, an Earth they will never return to.
It's easy to be critical because this does lack real depth, but it does remain an easy and entertaining read. It explores some issues about youth, love, marriage and policies of aggression but within a fast moving environment packed full of action.
So I quite enjoyed it and may pick up the sequals, but I am in no rush to do so,
on 26 July 2015
In a brief break from reading the things I don’t normally read, I took a moment to read something of the type that I used to read all the time. Fast paced, high energy science fiction that doesn’t slow down till you hit the end. Read through a bunch of reviews and the name John Scalzi kept coming up, so I picked up his first book and gave it a shot.
It starts with an interesting premise. People sign up for the military aged 65 and are inducted into the military aged 75. John Perry, the main character, lost his wife to a stroke a short while ago, and has now come to the point where it’s time to fulfil his obligation.
Two days later and I was done with the book and looking for book two...
It’s not about old people going off to war, the recruits get new bodies with which to fight (Avatar style, but long before Avatar came out...), and while those bodies are state of the art and well beyond the abilities of normal humans, they are the bare minimum required to fight in the wars of the universe.
The book doesn’t focus on the combat aspect of things, rather painting the picture that the world is different out there, and that a person of 75 with a whole lifetime of experience to draw on, would be a far more dangerous person to deal with if you just gave them their youth back. There’s also the psychological aspect, that if a person was at the end of everything and you offered them a decade in service in return for a new life, most would at least consider it.
There are a few action scenes, wars on different worlds with different creatures, but the story doesn’t linger on them at all, using them as a punchline that the wars are deadly and most don’t make it through them. There is a little character building for the expendables, but the story belongs to John Perry, a man of senior age who speaks and thinks far more like young men should speak and think, and that’s what captured me.
Here’s a writer who understands that it’s not the mind that gets old, it’s the body, most people in senior years still want to be every bit as active (if not moreso) as they were when they were younger, it’s just their body that doesn’t let them...
The story does feel more like it’s been set up to lead into other books, it’s really just getting interesting when the first book finishes, but the first book is self contained. It would be possible to leave it where it finishes and draw your own conclusions, but I am interested in seeing where it will go, so expect a review of the second shortly...
Excellent book, this is the reason I read stories...
on 28 May 2006
John Scalzi's debut novel, Old Man's War has an intriguing premise, some interesting science fiction concepts, and a complete ability to ignore military SF cliches that usually turn me off from this kind of book. It's a wonderful little book, violent but not overly graphic (though there are a couple of scenes that go beyond that), and it's certainly worth all of the accolades that have been heaped on it. Only the fact that it's a bit slow to get to the meat of the action drags it down even a little bit.
Earth has reached the stars, and been slammed back into isolation. Humans are out there colonizing the galaxy, but Earth itself is cut off from it, becoming almost a backwater in comparison to everything else. The Colonial Defense Force (CDF) insures that this remains so. On the other hand, once you turn seventy-five, you can enlist in the CDF, go out and see the universe, and kill lots of aliens who are out to kill you too. You'll just never see Earth again. John Perry has decided to take this route, and Old Man's War tells the story of this decision, and what he runs into when he gets out there. What he learns when he gets there is beyond what he could ever have imagined. He gets a new, grown body (green and all) that will make him young again (even if he's not completely human any more) and the extreme possibility of dying out in the mean universe. But he could be dead in ten years anyway, in a broken down body, on Earth, so why not go out where his death means something? Will John be a successful soldier, not only surviving but rising in the ranks? Or will he just be more cannon-fodder for the human colonies?
Scalzi is on record (in a Usenet post when asked about his military experience) as saying that he wanted Old Man's War to be accessible by his grandmother, who has no interest in things military. This meant that he wasn't going to spend a great deal of time on infantry tactics, technology, and the jingoism that many military SF novels embrace. The weapon of choice for the CDF is an adaptable rifle that fires five types of ammunition and can change on the fly, and he spends a bare amount of time making any explanations for the science of the situations he presents, such as the "skip drive" that gets everybody from Point A to Point B. It's the military SF novel for those who can't stand the genre, and I loved it for that.
Still, Scalzi doesn't completely avoid the science, and there are a couple of "theoretical" (as in, one of the characters who doesn't really know a whole lot about it is theorizing) explanatory scenes that seek to get this sort of thing out of the way. I found this appropriate given the situation that Scalzi presents. The humans that are enlisting don't know any of this stuff. The CDF keeps humans ignorant of it intentionally, so Scalzi is able to gloss over it a bit. While I did find it appropriate, I also thought that these occasional theorizing scenes slowed the book down much more than they should have (though certainly much less than they would have if they had been fully explained, and yes, I'm speaking to you, Mr. Weber!)
Scalzi gets the characterization down perfectly, creating a great "hero" in Perry. He's intelligent and he rises through the ranks fairly quickly by using his brain. The friendships that Perry forms when he first enlists seem very logical, as these people have been thrown together into a strange situation with no visible support apparatus. Even the fact that the first thing these older people do when they get young bodies is to enjoy themselves with as many people as possible is certainly understandable, and Perry's first scene like this is hilarious (though none of it is actually shown, for those prudes among us).
There is only one characterization misstep, and I'd say the good and the bad of the character even out. Perry's drill instructor, Master Sergeant Ruiz, is hilariously portrayed by Scalzi, with all of the typical movie drill instructor attitude. Even better is that he acknowledges the drill instructor stereotype, insisting that the recruits get that stereotype out of their heads because he's not going to gain "grudging respect" for them. He doesn't like any of them. This is all refreshing, acknowledging the clichés and then moving beyond them. Unfortunately, after his brilliant opening scene, we don't see a lot of him, and the description of subsequent events make him seem like the drill instructor that we all are familiar with. Only his last scene with Perry really moves above this.
The other small problem with Old Man's War is that it takes a long time to get through the setup of the setting. This is mitigated by the entertaining way that Scalzi writes these sequences, but it takes almost half the book before Perry actually gets into the action. The rest is his journey to the CDF and the establishing of the galaxy and his place in it. It's only a small problem because Scalzi does make it interesting, but I wish some of it could have been condensed.
Overall, Old Man's War is a wonderful book, one that I raced through because I was loving every minute of it. If you absolutely hate the genre of military SF, then you may find that even this book won't be enjoyable. But if you're just annoyed with a lot of the military SF that's out there, give this one a shot. It's an excellent debut novel, setting up an interesting situation, with characters that are a lot more compelling than in others of the genre. This one's worth a shot.
on 5 February 2005
After reading about ten pages of this, I had to go back and check the title page for the author, sure that it would read Robert Heinlein, not John Scalzi. Mr. Scalzi has obviously spent some time and effort analyzing Heinlein's methods and style, and the result here is an excellent novel that reads just like a brand new Heinlein.
The opening paragraph grabs: "I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army." Simple, direct, and immediately intriguing. And from this idea of geriatric soldiers the entire story unfolds: how these advanced age people are given new, enhanced bodies, interfaced with a remarkably effective internal computer, and sent to fight the baddies of the universe. Why they must fight. What the reasons are for living. Where the human race is heading. The problems with making assumptions about other life forms - and the effect that has on diplomacy.
Plot wise, this is a series of incidents and battles in the life of a soldier, without any strong goal or endpoint in mind. But as the scenes unfold, the person that is John Perry comes into clearer and clearer focus, a quiet, unassuming man who nevertheless can think on his feet, is not dismayed by radically new things, a natural leader with seventy-five years of experience to back up his decisions and actions, a man capable of deep love. Most of the people around him are not so well realized, but they really don't need to be.
Comparison is obviously invited with Heinlein's Starship Troopers with its similar theme and environment. But where Starship Troopers is very much a coming-of-age story, this is an adult trip into the land of survival. And where Starship Troopers had a large amount of philosophy directly exposited, Scalzi's opinions in these areas are much more muted, more shown rather than told. Replacement of Heinlein's powered armor with Scalzi's enhanced bodies doesn't cut down on the action, but does highlight the importance of the mind inside the body, its spirit, its willingness to fight not just for himself but for all of his compatriots and the race as a whole. Where Starship Troopers might be considered a treatise on government, civic responsibility, and military organizations, this has a somewhat less lofty goal, of showing why life is worth fighting for.
For anyone who loves Heinlein, this is a must. For those who like military science fiction, this is a must. For those who like a good story, powerfully told, this is a must. I fully expect to see this one on the Hugo nominee shortlist next year. It already has my vote.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
Faced with a choice between dying of old age and being given another life, what would you do? What Perry, the hero of "Old Man's War" does is to take the new life and be reborn from a sick 75-year-old body into a new, young fit one. The little catch is that he has to enlist for 10 years in the military where his mission is to explore the universe, meet strange new life and civilistions... and then blow them to bits.
The personal stuff to do with his enlistment into the military is well-handled, the combat excellent and the tone of the book darkly funny. The best bit is the diversity and sheer alien-ness of the aliens. The book plays out well, and although it ends a bit abruptly, there is a sequel.
Don't understand why this isn't topping the sci-fi best seller lists - it's really very good.
on 22 August 2013
Old Man's War by John Scalzi is light, fun and mostly devoid of anything that will tax your brain muscles too much. Therein lies my problem. Scalzi essentially explores one, very interesting idea through the medium of SF and the Space Opera. When you get older, would you sell yourself for a new, younger body? It's an interesting question which Scalzi explores fairly thoroughly in the first third of the novel (easily the best section) very much in the vein of classic SF.
He takes a core concept/question and runs with it. But then things get a bit more predictable, everything devolves into a Mary Sue story of aliens, super-powered soldiers and galactic space battles. It's not boring - far from it, but it's hardly the most interesting route Scalzi could have taken the concept. I enjoyed Old Man's War as a piece of popcorn space opera; as conceptual SF, not so much (except for that 1st third!). I'd be curious to see where it goes in the sequels, but whether I'd read them...
on 24 January 2016
This book is, as others have said an easy read but that's no downside, I picked it up and set it down several chapters later happily wanting to read more.
The plot's interesting, it paces really well with the pace of reading. I enjoyed the characters and the interactions make up the plot well. The military sci fi end is good, it's not the most heavy duty and creatively murdering aliens while questioning it isn't wildly new notion but it's solidly enjoyable.
Whether or not this is a classic isn't relevant to me, I've enjoyed some absolute dross as well as the much lauded classic sci fi writers, this is a nice complementary read, something that's rewarding to read without being wildly taxing.
I'll be reading the rest of them and having fun doing it, it did make me laugh at a couple of points too, which is great.
on 25 August 2014
I really enjoyed this book. Normally I avoid military sci-fi, as I dislike the endless round of battle descriptions with little plot in between. This book did have some war manoeuvres and battle scenes, which were mercifully, relatively short and to the point. I loved the sense of humour in the story and found it difficult to put the book down as there were lots of twists and turns and good plot lines, which is the meat of a good book. I also liked the idea of using old people, who'd outlived their bodies. Being oldish myself, I could really relate to that. Some of the twists in the plot were excellent and I just didn't see them coming. Scaltzi has written well here. On the down-side. The book seem to lose it's sense of humour towards the end a little, which is a shame as the author seems to excell at this and this is one of the things that sets this book apart from the myriad of other sci-fi mediocre books that are out there. Also I must admit to being a tad disappointed with the ending. I have purchased the second in the series though and I'm hoping that it's at least as good as the first one as this is one is a difficult act to follow.
I read somewhere that the definition of art is the considered arrangement of elements in order to elicit emotion. With that in mind John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is certainly a work of art if not a master piece.
I was reluctant to start this book as I am not a fan of war novels and I greatly prefer fantasy to science fiction so therefore no matter how many recommendations I got to read this book I have put it off… now I wonder why.
The Old Man’s War is set in a future where mankind has mastered space travel and have started to colonise other worlds. Going to other worlds is available to all of mankind but there is a catch, you can not go before you turn 75 and once you have gone you have to serve a minimum of 2 years but more likely 10 years in a war that will claim 75% of people who enter it. These old age pensioners are rewarded by being given a new life including the ability to be young again but this is weighed off against a high likelihood of death in the war before they get a chance to retire.
From the start this book it had me smiling and I think there was a grin on my face for most of the novel. The concept itself is fascinating and it is so well told via the title character in first person that you can’t help but be drawn in right from the beginning. The main character has a great sense of humour, he is well rounded, incredibly likeable and somewhat refreshingly he is very capable. There is a trend in Science Fiction and fantasy to have the title characters be incredibly flawed, almost useless and bumbling figures who get carried through the novel via the help and sacrifice of others or sheer luck (I blame the genre’s fascination with the Lord of the Rings and Bilbo Baggins for this overuse of that hero archetype). In this case though the main character is very capable and doesn’t require a great deal of looking after, though he does this without ever coming off as an infallible or arrogant character.
The relationship characters were equally well rounded and likeable, each character vivid in their description and personality which adds an extra level of depth to the novel. The characters were so well created that it was easy to become attached to them so, even when you might have only been reading about them for between twenty and hundred pages, you still feel an emotional jolt when bad things happen to them.
What I really liked about this novel however and what made it so much a work of art was the sheer amount of emotion stirred up by the story. Comical moments were funny enough to make me grin and almost smile, times when the characters were in danger elicited genuine moments of tension and fear, times of exploration for the characters were genuinely fascinating and times when I needed to feel bad for the characters provoked real sadness from me. I read a lot of books and it is rare that I can find books written well enough to provoke any of these emotions so to find a novel that so easily triggers all of these emotions is a rare delight and a real find.
Overall this is a brilliant book and an excellent first novel in a new series. I am eagerly looking forward to the next novel in the series and on the back of this story alone I know that John Scalzi is an author I will actively follow in the future.