Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War #1
Published by Tor/Forge on December 27, 2005
Genres: Science Fiction, Space Opera, War & Recovery
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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.
I’ve followed Scalzi’s blog for years and I quite like the man. I think this is why I find it ironic that I’ve never read any of his work – until now. In the space of two months my bookclub has read two books by Scalzi…and I’ve enjoyed both.
I don’t really read a lot of Sci-Fi but one of my favorite Sci-fi books is Starship Troopers by Heinlein. Starship Troopers is one of the only heavy Sci-Fi books I’ve truly enjoyed until reading Old Man’s War. I really enjoyed the heck out of Old Man’s War! I also think the reason I like it so much it that is that it reminds me of Starship Troopers (in the feeling, not the writing or situation). Old Man’s War is more surface and action while Starship Troopers is more introspective and cerebral with less action but they both have great characterization which I loved.
In fact, I’d say that characterization is one of Scalzi’s very strong points. He also has a talent for honest to God laugh out loud moments. I think my favorite character was Master Sergeant Antonio Ruiz. Oh fuck. I love Master Sergeant Antonio Ruiz. LOVE. Ruiz has no cut cards and no chill.
On it went. Ruiz had specific complaints against Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists, government workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, blue-collar joe’s, pet owners, gun owners, practitioners of martial arts, wrestling fans and, weirdly (both for the fact that it bothered him and the fact that there was someone in the platoon who fit the category), clog dancers. In groups, pairs, and singly, recruits were peeled off and forced to run.
“Recruit, I am honored that I have had a chance to meet you; you are additionally the first recruit in the history of my tenure that I have not found immediate grounds to despise. I cannot tell you how much that disturbs and unnerves me. However, I bask in the almost certain knowledge that soon – probably within the next few hours – you will undoubtedly do something to piss me off. To assure that you do, in fact, I assign to you the role of platoon leader. It is a thankless fucking job that has no upside, since you have to ride these sad-ass recruits twice as hard as I do, because for every one of the numerous fuckups that they perform, you also share the blame. They will hate you, despise you, plot your downfall, and I will be there to give you an extra ration of shit when they succeed. What do you think about that, recruit? Speak freely!”
Old Man’s War is pretty simple and rather complicated at the same time. Humans are in a race to colonize habitable planets. Our competitors? Aliens who also want those same habitable planets – and sometimes to eat us, too. O_O Due to a war on Earth, the only people allowed to live in a colony are people from the losing end of a nuclear war (India, etc). But those Colonialists need protection – and the answer is old people. The way an American can get to have their own colonial stake is to join up with the Colonial Defenses…and they only take you if you’re 75 years old. The new volunteers get to be young again while they go across the known universe to kill.
The man who stood in front of the theater full of recruits was a battle-tested veteran. Our BrainPals informed us that he’d been in the Colonial Defense Forces for fourteen years and had participated in several battles, the names of which meant nothing to us now, but no doubt would at some point in the future. This man had gone to new places, met new races and exterminated them on sight. He looked all of twenty-three years old.
The catch? You can never go home again.
And then the Earth slowly began to shrink in the video screen, still massive, and still brilliant blue and white, but clearly, inexorably, beginning to take up a smaller portion of the screen. We silently watched it shrink, all of the several hundred recruits who came to look.
I looked over to Harry, who, despite his early blustering, was quiet and reflective. Jesse had a tear on her cheek.
“Hey,” I said, and gripped her hand. “Not too sad, remember?”
She smiled at me and gripped my hand. “No,” she said hoarsely. “Not too sad. But even still. Even still. ”
We sat there some more and watched everything we ever knew shrink in the viewscreen.
And speaking of Scalzi’s gift of characterization, he hit the nail on the head with Dr. Russell. I have friends who were given some of the worst medical news from doctors who only looked pleased and proud that they discovered said issue. No concern about the way the news was being given at all.
Dr. Russell flipped the PDA screen around again; this time it was showing a false-color representation of my genitals. It was the first time I’ve ever had my own package waved in front of my face. “Here,” he said, pointing to a dark spot on my left testicle. “There’s the nodule. Pretty big sucker, too. It’s cancer, all right.”
I glared at the man. “You know, Dr. Russell, most doctors would have found a more tactful way to break the news.”
All in all, I really enjoyed this book! I had a great read and I do plan to read more in the series. And I think I’m going to recommend it to a few friends (and my mom!)