John Scalzi’s name is one I’ve heard in different occasions many times during the past few years, first of all for his books but also for his popular blog, Whatever, or for his job as a creative consultant on Syfy’s Stargate: Universe. All the while I hadn’t read a single of his books, as praised as they were by others. So, I chose to read his debut novel, Old Man’s War, to finally get a look at what Scalzi is all about. I shouldn’t have been worried that it would disappoint - it didn’t. This relatively small novel presents a smart, comic and action filled story that gives proof of why it has been so complimented.
John Perry did two things on his seventy-fifth birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army. The good news for humanity is that there we have finally made it into interstellar space. The bad new is that there are few planets out there fit to live on - and plenty of alien races willing to compete for them. Therefore we must fight: to defend Earth itself, and to stake or claim to planetary living space. Far from Earth this conflict has been going on for decades, brutal, bloody and unyielding.
Earth itself is now a backwater, with the bulk of humanity’s resources in the hands of Colonial Defense Forces. But you cannot join the CDF until you reach retirement age because they don’t want young people; only those with the knowledge and skills amassed during decades of living. Once you join CDF, you’ll be take off Earth and never allowed to return. First come two years at the front and, if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own on one of those hard-won colony planets.
When John Perry agrees to this deal, he has only the vaguest idea of what to expect. Because, light years from home, the actual fight he faces is far harder than he could imagine...and what he himself will become is far stranger still.
Wittiness is something that immediately draws me into the story. John Scalzi sends humor your way on the very first page and keeps it coming regularly during the length of the book. There isn’t much else to expect from a narrator that is a cynical seventy-five year-old off fighting in space, it's pretty much a given. But apart from being humorous, Scalzi also builds an intriguing future for Earth and humans that calls for nothing but to be explored. What’s great is that, initially, he wraps the universe we are about to enter in enough mystery that we are treated with the first impressions of the narrator, a much more personal method of storytelling.
Then there is the neat technology that he integrates into the novel and the nice touch that is the physics he throws in half-way through. Of course, like most any science fiction novel set in space he has to explain how his characters do interstellar travel, how they interact with known aliens, etc. Speaking of which, Scalzi thinks up some inventive species that surprise and render the many action sequences that Old Man’s War contains more captivating and varied. But, again, unusual and varied is what you should expect from seventy-five year-olds in space fighting aliens...
Old Man’s War possesses characters that never fail to reflect and analyze every situation they get into. Or at least John Perry, narrator and main character, does. He critiques, ridicules or otherwise breaks down all his orders and serves up some of the most gripping narratives I’ve read my way through. If questionable morals are your thing, and they do seem popular recently in the SFF market/genre, then this is another book that will suitably fill your desires.
In the event that you haven’t experienced Scalzi or Old Man’s War than it is a book well worth looking into. For whatever value it may have in this case, you have my recommendation. Scalzi’s debut is an absorbingly funny and original read and is yet another surprising debut. It’s no wonder John Scalzi as garnered the praise and respect he has. Though I don’t know when I’ll get to them, Old Man’s War has a number of sequels: The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale. If you enjoy this one then I suppose it may be a good idea to work your way through those.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
John Scalzi's Website: http://www.scalzi.com/
Buy Old Man's War: