Posted on October 13, 2008 by alymonster
“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.”
Chances are, if you read a webzine such as this one, that you’ve been around the internets long enough to have heard of John Scalzi. Either you’ve viewed the ever-famous picture of his cat with bacon taped to it, or you’ve spotted his blog, “the Whatever”. Spotting Scalzi isn’t hard: he writes, anything, a lot of it.
Ah, but have you read his fiction? No? Do so.
I was flabbergasted that Old Man’s War was Scalzi’s first novel. Why? Well… Scalzi can write. Quite well, no less. Old Man’s War is smoothly written, with an engaging hook, moving plot, and reasonable science. The characters are convincing, the settings are quite literally spacious, and the cover art is good. All that you might want from sci fi, right? Right.
The premise: It is the far future, and humanity has colonized the stars. We are not alone in the universe, and competition for habitable worlds is fierce between humanity and numerous alien species; many of whom would like to eat humanity for breakfast. Or dinner, with a nice vegetable side dish. Enter our main character, John Perry, a 75 year old widower who is about to begin his term of volunteer service with the Colonial Defense Forces. He, like his fellow recruits, finds out that the “new lease on life” offered by the CDF is very much not what he expected, and that his idea of space and the colonies was anything but correct.
In this delightfully written, we’re-not-in-Ohio-anymore-Toto take on the classic story of “Soldiers in Space”, Scalzi manages to get a number of little “wait… think” moments in. Food for thought: How would an army of old coots act? What would you really do with a computer in your brain? Discuss. Let’s skip the obvious Heinlein references and get down to it, shall we? For some added fun, Scalzi manages to get in digs on such subjects as advertising, Hollywood, military intelligence, physicists, and well, the internet. I’m looking at a short list of authors that can pull this kind of stunt off; sadly, a very wonderful author whose name I’m trying to avoid jumps to the top. Sigh. Heinlein. Starship Troopers. Okay? I said it. Now, back to Old Man’s War.
Given that I am by no means a writer that can compare with Scalzi’s clean skill, I fail to do justice to this novel. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it; so much that I immediately read the two sequels, the Ghost Brigades and the Last Colony, both of which were also immensely enjoyable. If you like sci fi, especially if you possess a sense of irony, read this book.
If you like it, check out his other work, including the Android’s Dream (a crazy-fun little sci fi with some truly wacky genetic hijinks) and “Whatever”. Oh, and don’t e-mail Scalzi about bacon, because that annoys him. Trust me.
Review by Aly Condon