Title: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Recommended By: Some random Internet Top 50 Sci-Fi Novel List
Date Reviewed: 30 December 2015
“I hate that I’ve become one of those old men who visits a cemetery to be with his dead wife. When I was (much) younger I used to ask Kathy what the point would be. A pile of rotting meat and bones that used to be a person isn’t a person anymore; it’s just a pile of rotting meat and bones. The person is gone–off to heaven or hell or wherever or nowhere. You might as well visit a side of beef. When you get older you realize that this is still the case. You just don’t care. It’s what you have.”
The protagonist, John Perry, isn’t really all that interesting. He’s too good at everything and seems like the author inserted himself into the novel. My favorite character is probably Jane Sagan, but I can’t tell you anything about her without massive spoilers.
Summary and Review:
The setting of Old Man’s War is future Earth – it could be 50 years from now or 200–it’s kind of hard to tell. Lots of humans have left planet Earth itself to form interplanetary colonies, and the Colonial Government doesn’t concern itself much with Earth. It’s too busy dealing with plenty of alien civilizations who are trying to colonize the same planets and battle with humans over limited resources.
The first line of the novel is a great hook that gives you a taste of what’s to come: “John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.” Perry and his wife had registered for the Colonial Military at age 65–it’s a 10-year process–but she didn’t make it through to her 75th birthday. No one really knows what the Colonial Military will do to septuagenarians to make them combat ready, but for most folks in that age range they figure they have a way of making them young again. It’s all very mysterious, but Perry doesn’t have too many ties to Earth at this point and wants to go on one last adventure.
The book follow’s Perry’s journey through basic training and into his first few combat encounters. I’d really love to share more details, but the surprises are good enough that I don’t want to spoil them here. I read this book as I was going through a period of reflection regarding aging and death, and I think that Scalzi has really tapped into the desire for a second youth than many people start to feel as they become elderly.
A lot of the tones and frankness reminded me of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. If you liked that book, you’ll probably like this one and vice versa. There are additional books in this series, and I’m probably going to seek them out at some point. They’re not challenging, but they have a bit more substance than a lot of bubble-gum sci-fi and several interesting ideas. In particular the main infantry weapon is quite ingenious and the section where a former high-school physics teacher turned infantryman explains how their interstellar skip drive works might blow your mind in the best way possible.
The featured image in this post is an oil painting inspired by Old Man’s War by Craig Maher. Go check out his work at craigmaher.net.