Book Reviews Old Man's War

Published on March 13th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley

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Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is a Sci-fi novel written by popular blogger John Scalzi in 2005. A rare find as a Military Sci-fi in the same vein as Starship Troopers.

Set in the distant future, in a universe wrought with warfare over planetary occupation, Earth has already entered the fray and colonised a large number of planets with the might of the Colonial Defence Forces. The CDF are responsible for the strict control on intercolonial transport and communication as well the occupation of new habitable worlds.
Earth is unfortunately no longer the central hub of human life in the universe and are left out of the loop of galactic affairs, even that concerning the colonies. Colonial tech is vastly superior and is a closely guarded secret.

The mystery surrounding the CDF deepens when the lower age limit of the recruitment is 75, the fervent hope and struggle for immortality despite the increased age limit has led some to believe the CDF have age reversing technology for their recruits.

John Perry (odd for authors to name characters after themselves) has just reached his 75th birthday, he has lost his wife and his children have grown up. With nothing to lose he has signed himself up to join the CDF in hopes to start anew.

I first became interested in this title, when it appeared on a list of reads on a website amongst some other good books. The fact that it’s a military Sci-fi intrigued me, but the comparisons to Starship Troopers weren’t exactly welcome, fortunately for me the book is far removed from its fascist leaning father.

Lefty by nature the book conveys a comical tone, especially with the main character, this makes the ideas a lot easier to swallow as it’s not often one sees a pensioner as the protagonist for a book. The characters are well rounded and are believable as aged people of a future generation. This was one of the more anticipated themes of the book for me and it scrubs up well, the characters are fun and also insightful, whilst also displaying some nice touches of modernity not often seen in the older folks of today like homosexuality and tolerance.

The world isn’t completely free from prejudice as a great piece of exposition quickly shows when a character begrudgingly tells us of the Indian population increasing so greatly as to require preferential treatment when choosing possible colonists as well as being subject to a possible post-war guilt over a nuclear strike that was fired in New Delhi from presumably the Americans.

The sequel to Old Man's War.

The sequel to Old Man’s War.

The elusive nature of the CDF and their army’s “enhancements” are a great initial drawing points as well as interesting technology like that of the immense orbital elevator to the space station, one which humans on Earth have been puzzling over. When recruits get to it they are on a one-way trip from then on, as when you join you are legally pronounced dead and exiled forever from Earth. Never to return.

Brilliant sci-fi concepts litter the book giving some brilliant depth to the world of Old Man’s War, war technology as well as human enhancements feature prominently, complementing the interesting new strategy of planetary warfare making you wish you could sign up. It’s a great thinking point for what it means to fight in a war for your race and for your squadmates.

The military theme is not overdone in Sci-fi nor in this book, the CDF exhibit a fairly conventional hierarchy with the exception of the enigmatic Ghost Brigade, a special forces within the army. Warfare is light, restricted mostly to brief descriptions of battles fought as well as infantry fire fights and hand to hand combat. The armour worn by the soldiers is particularly interesting as the material hardens in areas where there have been foreign interceptions, protecting against ballistics.

Hard hitting army relationships are also kept to a minimum, opting for more human and interactions that are poignant as well as pleasant and immersive.
The enemy aliens are also well designed with minimal visual descriptions but well planned temperaments and depth to the species themselves. It reminded me of Mass Effect’s alien races and how individual they all are.

I love the cosmic irony that Scalzi employs throughout his characters’ interpersonal relations. It gives the book an authentic feeling of love for the genre and also lightens some of the important themes that are prevalent throughout the book. Where does the line of humanity and creation lie? How much of who we are is born into us through our genes and how much does our experience affect us personally and as humans?

The book is unfortunately rather short at around 300 pages and despite neatly and sweetly filling them with great fast pace and vibrant narrative, it does however leave you wanting a bit more. I suppose then it’s pretty fortunate that Scalzi has added to his Old Man’s War series as a universe this adventurous would be a waste on this book alone.

The novel raises above its modern Sci-fi peers with a gripping world of intergalactic warfare and   political unrest, underlying current issues and questions about our own future and where we are headed, the humourous underlay works well with the unique characters and the book is sure to please even the most fickle brains of Sci-readers if not spark envious desires to staple a calculator to your head.

A John Harris piece commissioned for John Scalzi's The Human Division.

A John Harris piece commissioned for John Scalzi’s The Human Division.

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