Friday, March 18, 2011

Review - Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi
318 pages
published 2005

Synopsis from publisher:

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.

My thoughts:

I came at this series backwards - a couple of years ago, I read and reviewed Zoe's Tale, the last book in the Old Man's War series. I fell in love with Scalzi's writing as I was reading that novel, and honestly don't know what it has taken me so long to pick the series back up again. I was completely captivated with Zoe, and in Old Man's War I became equally captivated with her father, John Perry.

Perry is just an ordinary guy - fairly intelligent, with a good sense of humor, who misses his wife. He's the kind of person everyone can relate to in one way or another, so watching him make the journey from naive civilian to battle-scarred soldier is fascinating. I could see myself in his emotions and reactions, and that only served to make him more sympathetic. Perry's group of friends - the Old Farts, as they call themselves - are diverse and interesting, and each feels like someone you would enjoy knowing.

Scalzi is a wonderful storyteller, spinning his tale with humor and tension, keeping the reader turning pages long after they should be in bed for the night. He also gives the reader much to think about - questions about the glorification or vilification of the military, the importance of personal identity and what it means to be truly human - but never in a way that feels heavy-handed or preachy. And I very much enjoy his writing style - here is an excerpt that describes the last time Perry and his friends see Earth:

"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 at Harry, who, despite his earlier 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 and 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." (p.45)

My husband and I read this book together, and both enjoyed it very much. It prompted a rather in-depth discussion about the physics involved in the novel. (As Harry says over and over, I just don't have the math. *grin*)

I love this series, and can't recommend it highly enough. It would be a great introduction to science fiction for someone who is unsure of the genre. Scalzi recently announced on his website that Old Man's War has been optioned for a movie deal - that is one movie I can't wait to see!

Finished: 3/13/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: R for sexuality and strong military violence
My rating: 9/10


bermudaonion said...

I might have to check this one out - I don't read sci-fi but feel like I should explore the genre.

Kailana said...

I am like you. I really like his writing, but have yet to read on in the series... I even have the second book in an easy-to-get place (which is rare at the moment) and haven't picked it up yet!

Zibilee said...

Something about this book that you have captured so well in this review is drawing me towards this book, when it would normally not be my fare. I loved this review and think I would also love this book. It sounds riveting and I am adding it to my list. Fantastic review!

Jeanne said...

I thought the second and third one in the series were just as good, too.

LeahV said...

I just finished this one- and loved it! Thanks for the recommendation - now I can't wait to read the other three :-)

Elizabeth said...

Leah - glad you liked it! It's a very good series - I really like this author.