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 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 30 October 2013
I don't really like military science fiction. Or at least it doesn't really appeal to me, I probably haven't read enough to really pass judgement. I just think that while military concerns play an important part in a lot of science fiction, particularly space based science fiction, it is just one of many facets of a good story. That said, I've been hearing a lot about Scalzi recently and I enjoyed his Hugo award winning 'Redshirts', so thought I should give it a go.
In Old Man's War, the only way for most people to get off earth and explore the galaxy is to join the army - the Colonial Defence Force (CDF). However the CDF doesn't take recruits until their 75th birthday. Everyone knows the Colonial Union and the CDF have much more advanced technology than Earth, including some sort of rejuvination treatments for the elderly. They much have, because what use would aching, arthritis ridden geriatrics be in an army?
The book follows John Perry and his new found friends (the "old farts" as they christen themselves) as he joins the CDF and leaves Earth behind. He gets his training, and then is sent on a series of assignments round the galaxy against various different unusual and horrific aliens (one alien race sent its celebrity chefs with its invasion force to explain how best to cook and eat humans).
The book is fairly short and is an easy read. As I suspected, it does concentrate on the military aspect, and you are left wondering about the politics of the galaxy, what life is like for colonists, what the motivations of the aliens are like etc etc. However the characters, particularly Perry, are appealing and Scalzi writes in an easy, fun style with lots of humour and subtle jokes scattered throughout. In the hands of another author this novel would probably be quite boring, but Scalzi makes it a really fun read.
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.
on 10 April 2016
I've just popped onto Amazon to see the reviews for this book and I am not sure what to be more surprised at - why there are so many extremely positive reviews or how one commentator said that he spent 12 hours reading it. We're you asleep for 6 of those mate?
Good initial concept that didn't actually work out. There are far too many concepts for a single novel to cope with, and a chronic overdose of sex/love interest/how am I feeling scenes that somehow photo bombed the action. Like this reimagining...
"Perry, I love you even though I've known you for 6.354 hours and my Brainpal is telling me this is all wrong" Perry responded by suggesting Jane focus on killing these super unusual alien foes that are innocently BBQ'ing Orvil the Duck 5.645 metres away. "I'm pregnant Perry", "what?" Perry said, slightly surprised since he hadn't even got his PDA out in front of her before. "Yes, and now I want to move to a farm even though I am a highly specialised robot human combo". Perry shot the furry alien that looked just like a snack sized Mars bar (in a Milky Way wrapper) in the groin before turning back to face her. "Ermm, well whilst you do look like my wife, I am not sure your character wont simply disappear randomly like all my other friends. Get into this stasis tube and I'll come back to you in six months." "But what if we skip jump on different ships and I am someone totally different but the same but different?" Jane said. "Don't worry Jane, John will simply rethink the poorly thought out skip drive idea and make sure that you get your own storyline."
After killing a few more mars bars Perry got promoted to General after only 173.35 pages and no training and proceeded to make everybody else look completely incompetent. The end.
on 18 February 2016
The first paragraph introduces us to the paradox: "I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my
wife’s grave. Then I joined the army..."
Humanity has reached the stars where a host of other intelligent races also live. Now that Earth has joined the galactic community, there are other realities to worry about. Not all the member planets of the universal community are friendly, nor even agreeable to letting the various human communities scattered galaxy-wide live in peace. Thus, the need for the Colonial Defence Force (CDF), an independent galactic human military organisation that has the mandate to protect humanity in space.
As an independent body, the CDF has an agreement with Earth governments as to who can move to space (to any available planets), and how to recruit soldiers without depleting Earth's workforce. The way they've worked around that is to recruit people at the end of their lives, build a clone from a DNA sample and upload their soul into the new body. The new body has a number of enhancements that render the recruits not only are young again, but endow them almost super-hero abilities and strength. And, they're blue.
So, John Perry joined the army on his 75th birthday. His wife should have been with him -- she had also given her DNA sample -- but she didn't live to see the day. From there, he's taken, along with hundreds of other recruits, off to space. Along the way, on the long trip on board a luxury space cruiser, their orientation begins, followed by their transformation. John Perry and his circle of new friends are young again, and begin enjoying their short honeymoon with their superb bodies.
To the old fogies, it's a chance at a second lifetime. I say, "a chance", because the chance of surviving the two years of service are frighteningly small.
So, John Scalzi launches us into his "Old Man's War" universe. His protagonist survives his first few battles, excels, is promoted, is almost killed during yet another mission. He's rescued, and as he blacks out he glimpses an unmistakeably -- if not impossibly -- familiar face...
It's a great read, well worth its weight in sequels...
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 10 March 2013
"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army."
Isn't that a great way to open a book? Intriguing, it draws you in. I guess there's nothing in it that isn't implied by the book's title but still, I like it.
Old Man's War is the story of John Perry who, as we've read, enlists on his 75th birthday. The army he enlists with is the Colonial Defence Force and involves him leaving earth, and his former life - he becomes legally dead, behind. The CDF recruits exclusively from 75-year-olds and there are rumours of rejuvenation technology, which is why so many enlist. The truth is slightly more disturbing.
The book follows John through the process step by step - leaving earth, initial induction, the treatment, military training, military campaigns. In fact for the first third of the book it's pretty much one thing after another rather than a plot per se. Then there's a section when we get to see John and the CDF battling various alien threats. This seemed mostly just to illustrate the variety of aliens and how they need to adapt tactics to fight them. The final section has something more of a plot.
I enjoyed this book, particulary parts 1 & 3. A common criticism and one I think I agree with is that you don't really get a sense of an older person. Once we get to the training and the battles John is just a character we're following and the fact that he has seven decades of experience doesn't seem to play into it. I'd've thought at least in terms of the training we'd've see that oldies have less patience for their drill sergeant's nonsense than your average 19-20-year-old.
I was also not a fan of the book's treatment of the morals of war. The CDF seem to believe in Manifest Destiny and the one character who was given anything to say against this was also a character shown to be stupid by his actions. It's true I suppose that there's a constant tongue-in-cheek tone so how much we're supposed to take any of this seriously is up for question. I'm told that this is dealt with again in the follow-up books. To be honest though I can't see myself reading them.
on 29 August 2012
In the author's notes at the end of this book Scalzi pays tribute to Robert A. Heinlein. And so he should, because this book wears its influences front and centre and doesn't care. This is pretty much Starship Troopers Mk II. Actually, mash together Starship Troopers and The Forever War, take out the things that made the latter special, and this is what you'd end up with. That's not necessarily a bad thing, in this case.
Getting over the fact that my neighbour is called John Perry (which became slightly disturbing considering some of the things the character gets up to in the book!), the story is told in the first person. Perry's wife died a few years ago, and he pays his last visit to her grave on his 75th birthday before heading off to complete his enrolment in the Colonial Defense Force. In signing up he is expected to say goodbye to everything and everyone he knew on Earth, because he won't be coming back. As soon as his allotted transport time has passed he will officially be 'dead', his estate will be divided as per his will, and he will effectively cease to exist - on Earth. He doesn't care. He wants to do something useful with the last years of his life, even if it means leaving his son behind.
Why would anyone do this? Why does the military only recruit people at 75? Why can they never come back? I don't want to answer any of these questions because it would spoil much of the fun. The first half of the book is taken up with Perry's training, and the friends he makes along the way. Scalzi's characterisation is pretty good, with a lot of humour coming through the zippy dialogue. You also get to meet a drill instructor ripped straight out of a Vietnam war movie (although I kind of imagined him as Clancy Brown out of the Starship Troopers movie). He shouts a lot, he swears a lot, but he's very, very funny, and through this he makes his points very well.
The action when it comes is brisk and brutal, and takes up much of the second half of the novel. There's not a lot of diplomacy going on here. Scalzi actually takes the time to make some points about growing old and how you live your life. Sometimes he does it subtly, sometimes he uses a hammer, but it does add a little depth to proceedings. There's also some actual science involved, which he dumbs down quite nicely so that it doesn't fry your brain.
Old Man's War is a solid novel. It's compact, streamlined, doesn't overstay its welcome, and left me wanting more. It's also pretty simple and straightforward. It's an easy, action-packed read that won't particularly stretch the grey matter. It's maybe not the space opera I was looking for when I got that craving a few days ago, but I'll certainly be picking up the next book in the series pretty soon.