Monday, March 28, 2011

Old Man's War - John Scalzi


About the Book

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.

320 pages (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-4827-2
Publication date: January 2007
Publishing company: Tor
Author’s webpage

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Admittedly, I’m not as well versed with science fiction as I am with fantasy. It’s only been a few months since I’ve even started to be interested in that genre. Now that I’ve dabbled in it, I can’t seem to get enough. One of the books that seems to be somewhere near the top of almost every scifi reader’s “must read” list is Old Man’s War. Having never read any Scalzi before, I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started this one. My, what a uniquely hilarious, action packed and thought-provoking ride it was!

Old Man’s War is one of those rare books that literally hooks the reader from the first page. The first-person perspective allows Scalzi to show off the dry, sarcastic, thoughtful and somewhat introspective viewpoint of the protagonist, John Perry. This creates a rare balance where the characters thoughts are just about as interesting as the events happening in the world around him. Thus, when the action quiets down a bit, the book can thrive off of nothing more than Perry’s observations and thoughts.

Most books have protagonists somewhere in their younger years, or middle adult age. Old Man’s War is a refreshing change from this. John Perry, and others that he meets along the way, join the intergalactic army when they turn seventy-five years old. They then go through some genetic tinkering which basically brings them back to their youth, however, in bodies that are altered to be stronger, faster, have better sight and etc. There is somewhat of a balance lacking here. While the characters are youthful on the outside, their consciousness is still seventy-five and rarely do they actually act or think that way. Thus, it’s easy to forget the true inner-age of these individuals. While this did, in the long run, benefit the book, it also lacked some realism, though not to a really noticeable degree.

As I mentioned above, Old Man’s War is infused with action with only some brief periods of rest. These quiet periods can be useful with building up the world(s), situations, characters and more. However, some of them are used for some pretty hefty info dumps. These info dumps aren’t frivolous. Some of them are quite necessary as Scalzi is dealing with some pretty hefty scientific topics. They do clear the air of confusion, but can be slightly tiring if they drag on a bit too long.

Despite these minor issues I’ve listed above, Old Man’s War was a huge hit. Scalzi seamlessly blends old-school military science fiction with a humorous, likeable protagonist and characters that truly aren’t ordinary in any sense of the word. Furthermore, while his characters are hurtling through outer space and engaging in military operations, Scalzi manages to infuse his work with unique cultures and worlds. The only regret I had with this was that there wasn’t more depth or background given to some of these interesting cultures. I often found myself wanting to learn more about these races of beings, but was whisked off to the next destination in the chain of events before I found myself completely immersed.

There is more to Old Man’s War than humor and plenty of action. This book is also quite thought provoking as Scalzi toys with the concept of identity and what makes humans, human. While these deeper themes can be buried beneath a fast moving plot and the wry voice of the protagonist, they are there. The most obvious point is when Perry had to leave his seventy-five year old body behind and discover that he is still who he has always been despite the new shell he finds himself in. I found the many layers of Old Man’s War rather refreshing. The action keeps the plot moving relentlessly forward. John Perry’s unique voice keeps serious topics and events lighter than you’d expect with some of the grisly situations he finds himself in and under all this is a deeper theme dealing with man’s search for himself.

All in all, I found Old Man’s War to be a much more enjoyable read than I expected it to be. It’s one of those rare books that will hook readers from the very first page. John Perry’s voice is light and fresh. Scalzi’s flawless writing brings alien worlds and cultures to brilliant life in the reader’s mind. There is nearly cover-to-cover action and adventure, some of which can be quite graphic. Yet, below all of this Scalzi seems to be toying with deeper themes. Thus, Old Man’s War works on many levels and this can appeal many different readers, as long as they don’t mind some langua age and graphic violence. While this book does have some flaws, they, by no means, hold it back. In fact, Old Man’s War is one of those books that are so good you almost have to go specifically looking for the flaws lest you miss them.

4/5 stars

1 comment:

  1. I have three words for you THE GHOST BRIGADES. Read it. So good!

    ReplyDelete