Old Man's War

Old Man’s War
My rating: 5 out of 5.

For a while now I’ve been despairing of finding new science fiction authors I like. I would go through my local bookstores and the only ones that didn’t seem like pure twaddle were either books I’ve read previously or by authors I was previously familiar with. Authors who usually are very old or already dead. Oddly this problem only seemed to be happening with science fiction. Fantasy, horror, mystery and so on all are fine right now. I just haven’t for the longest time been able to find any decent science fiction by an author who wasn’t all corpsified (or close to being so). This has concerned me as I misspent much of my youth blasting around the universe on the dread rocketship Imagination fueled by the works of many fine authors. I wish to continue to doing so, but the fifth or fifty-fifth time you read a book it does not always generate as much juice as the first time.

All that being said, I am pleased to say I have found a new science fiction author who writes something worth reading! A while back, I was reading Doug Stewart‘s blog and he mentioned getting a particular book for his birthday. Interestingly enough the author of Old Man’s War, John Scalzi, stopped by Doug’s blog and wished him a happy birthday. I thought that was pretty cool of him. Given that Doug described the book as a gift that should “warm any decent sci-fi fan’s hardened heart”; my interest in this book was peaked.

I followed the link from the author’s comment to his website and noticed he had a free, sample chapter of the book online. I read through the sample and quite enjoyed it, so I added the book to my list1. A few weeks later, the wife and I stopped in a Barnes & Noble to rest our weary feet and grab a coffee from their café. Before we went into the café, we looked around the store for some reading material. I still remembered wanting a better look at Old Man’s War, so I hunted around and found a copy of it. I thought the plan was to simply browse through the material while having our coffee but I was overruled and she bought the book with the coffees. As we sat down, I started to flip through the book but she wanted to look at it. Since she hadn’t found anything to look at and I actually had several books at home I was in the middle of; I let her have it. That turned out to be something of a mistake on my part, as I didn’t get it back until she finished it the next day. Since I didn’t get it back right away, I stuck it into my stack of books to read. I held off a couple of days before I broke down and yanked it out of the middle of my stack. I read it cover to cover in a single evening and loved it. I just read it again (since I’ve been home sick for a week) and still loved it. But enough about me, you probably want to know something about the book other than I loved it.

Right, Old Man’s War is set in the future. How far in the future is not explicitly stated but it seems to be the not-too-entirely-distant future. In this future, humanity is living and fighting amoung the stars. It turns out while there are numerous stars & planets out there; only so many of them are of any use to us and to the other races we’ve met. That’s right, there is alien life out there and it ain’t friendly. Human space is protected by the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) which boasts the oldest army ver fielded by man. The CDF’s infantry is entirely made up of the elderly. People, like the main character (John Perry), cannot even join the CDF until they turn 75. The elderly are joining up in droves because they all know the CDF must have someway to make them young again. After all at 75 years on Earth, humans are not exactly in the ideal condition for fighting a war.

The book starts with Mr. Perry visiting his wife’s grave and then joining the army. From there it’s a fast sprint through the rest of the story. Mr. Scalzi’s writing is easy to read, in part because he does not bog you down with tons of details about the new technologies used in the future. Also the characters are very likable and easy to relate to. But the book is not without its flaws.

The CDF is an independent entity from Earth and has more power than any goverment on Earth, but there’s nothing in the book telling us how this came about. Mr. Scalzi hints at it saying that the CDF isolated Earth from the rest of space2 and then used technologies it developed or stole from other races to maintain its monoply on humanity’s spaceflight. The actual details of how the CDF managed the initial isolation and how they continue to keep Earth from building more skip drives3 and sneaking off planet. Also the plot covering John Perry’s rescue by the Special Forces and subsequent interactions with his rescuers seems…. a bit too deus ex machina. Mind you it was fun to read but it stretches the believability more than just a little and no I won’t tell you exactly why as that would require me to reveal big spoilers of the plot. Hopefully some of this will be cleared up in the sequel, The Ghost Brigades (due out next week according to Amazon.com).

1 The list of books in my head that I need to buy when I have the money and am in a bookshop. It fluctuates depending on how good my memory is, how empty my wallet is, how often I’m visiting any given bookshop and how big an impression a book or an author makes on me.
2 Due to an outbreak of an alien disease that sterialized all but 1/3 of Earth’s men.
3 The skip drive is the FTL drive in Mr. Scalzi’s universe.

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