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Review: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War

Buy old Man’s War by John Scalzi

  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (January 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765348276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765348272

I recently finished a great book by an author I had never heard of before. His name is John Scalzi and the book is Old Man’s War.

One of the things that made me get it was the review on the insider cover from Publisher’s Weekly said:

As a lifetime Heinlein fan, that would have been enough to make me buy it but the fact that it was the first in a three part series helped. If a book sucks, I can drop it and not worry about it again, but if it’s good, I like to revisit the same world.Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master.

My next step after reading the inner review quotes is to read the first couple of paragraphs. Old Man’s War starts off with:

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

I got a serious Starship Troopers (all grown up) sense of deja vu.

To top it off, the back cover blurb sucked me right in:

The good news is that humanity finally made it to the stars. The bad news is that, out there, planets fit to live on are scarce. So, we fight. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.


Sign me up! I bought the book on the spot. I did not regret it.

A quick synopsis: in the future, we (as in us humans) have made it into space. We are in a perpetual fight with many other species for the rare habitable planets. For the most part we are out gunned and out manned.

The colonial defense force (CDF) is in charge of recruiting for, and executing the war. The CDF recruits only from earth, not from the colonies. The colonies need every able body to expand and maintain. The CDF has an interesting recruitment policy, you have to be sign up when you’re 65 and you actually join when you hit 75.

The CDF wants people with experience. By 75, most people have accumulated quite a bit of experience. Of course, you might wander how a bunch of 75+ recruits can take on the bug-eyed monsters of the Galaxy. John, our protagonist ponders the same question.

The book is almost like two very different books. The first is John leaving Earth, joining the army and getting to know his recruit-mates. He also learns how it is that 75+ year olds are fighting a war. They aren’t. At least not unchanged.

Mildly spoily alert!

In the second part, John learns exactly what it means to become a superhuman. He is turned into a green skinned, genetically engineered killing machine. I’ll leave it to you to read the particulars. John learns how to fight and kill in his new body. He goes on several different missions before being blown apart on a failed mission. On that mission he runs into someone very, very familiar.

I have to agree with the publisher’s weekly reviewer. To me, this book has a very Heinlein-esque feel to it. It moves quickly and has a matter of fact writing style that is very reminiscent of RAH.

The attitudes on sex and sexual orientation are also very RAH, even if they are somewhat modernized. The science feels very plausible and seems day to day. The shockers are explained well and I was easily able to suspend disbelief.

This is a good book. I have the second in the series, The Ghost Brigades, and will be buying the third. I give this one two thumbs up!

It’s interesting to note that Scalzi is a long time blogger, Whatever and has a fairly extensive bibliography (including Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader). You can read his mini-biblio and bio.

Buy old Man’s War by John Scalzi

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