This is one of those rare times I’ve picked up a book not because I read the synopsis and it sounded good, but because I enjoyed the author so much on the Internet I pretty much had to buy at least one of their books to support them in being awesome.
I’ve been following John Scalzi on Twitter for the better part of a year and reading his Whatever blog on and off for longer than that. He’s consistently funny, thoughtful, and down-to-earth, and at some point last year I finally decided I needed to, you know, actually read his books.
So I picked up Old Man’s War at the bookstore over Thanksgiving, figuring if I was going to start with his stuff, I was going to start at the beginning.
And I’m happy to report that I might enjoy Scalzi’s science fiction more than his hilarious Twitter posts. And that’s saying something.
John Perry is a man who is ready for a new life. His wife has been dead for eight years, his son has grown up, and so at age 75, John joins the army, specifically the Colonial Defense Force.
You see, humans have started colonizing the galaxy, but we aren’t the only sentient race out there, and habitable planets aren’t exactly plentiful. So we’re in a constant war with other races to expand. And it’s the CDF’s job to protect and defend human colonies from alien invaders.
Old Man’s War starts the day Perry joins the military, and we jump onto the ride with him. He’s a fun and funny narrator with a good sense of humor (sometimes subtle, sometimes less so), perfect for introducing us to the strange new world beyond the borders of Earth.
I hesitate to say too much about what you find, because that’s half the fun of this novel: the discovery process, the revelation of something new with each and every page. Scalzi’s built a great universe for us to explore, and it’s a joy to do so.
I loved the way he had me grinning at one page and then punched a hole in my gut the next. It’s actually amazing how he handled the deaths in the book (because it’s a book about war, this is hardly a spoiler). There was something stripped-down and bare about their descriptions that made them all the more poignant, even without accompanying angst from our narrator.
One of the things I loved most about the book was how easy it was to read. This might sound like a strange thing to praise, but after Endymion and If on a winter’s night a traveler, I was tired of books that stuck me with pages-long paragraphs and detailed descriptions and philosophical arguments to make your head spin.
Old Man’s War did not have that problem, and it was like a breath of fresh air. I practically devoured the book, and it was such a nice change of pace after reading two books in a row that felt like they required an advanced degree to understand.
That’s not to say Old Man’s War skimps on the science or even on the explanations of the technical stuff. But Scalzi (rather brilliantly, I thought) breezes past the how (“You don’t have the math”), giving us just enough to understand what’s going on without getting overwhelming.
Some people have said Scalzi is reminiscent of Robert Heinlein—and being as that I’ve read only one Heinlein book, I won’t argue. However, Old Man’s War reminded me a little bit more of Ender’s Game, only with old farts instead of six-year-old children.
If I had one complaint about this book, it’s that it’s a little more episodic than I anticipated. Perry’s goal is really just “join the army and survive”; there’s not really an overarching story question from what I could peg. But it’s well-written enough and otherwise enjoyable enough that it didn’t bother me too much.
If you enjoy science fiction and you haven’t read Old Man’s War, add it to your list. Hell, even if you don’t enjoy science fiction but are willing to give the genre a go, pick it up. It’s a great read for longtime sci-fi fans and newbies alike.
And while you’re at it, follow Scalzi on Twitter. You won’t regret it.