Sunday, December 21, 2014

I Reads You Review: OLD MAN'S WAR

TOR/Tom Doherty Associates – @torbooks

AUTHOR: John Scalzi
ISBN: 978-0765309402; hardcover (2005)
320pp, B&W, $. U.S.

Old Man's War is the debut novel from blogger and science fiction writer, John Scalzi.  The book was first published in 2005 (although there may have been a Science Fiction Book Club edition of the book published in late 2004).  It was nominated for one of science fiction literature's top honors, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, in 2006.

Old Man's War is a military science fiction novel in the tradition of Starship Troopers, the novel by the late author, Robert A. Heinlein, which was first published in hardcover in December 1959 (after being serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction).  Old Man's War is the story of an old man who enlists in the human interstellar military force, which wages a constant war against aliens for the planets that humans colonize and the ones humans want to colonize.

Old Man's War is told as a first-person narrative by the novel's central character, John Nicholas Perry, a retired advertising writer.  Perry does two things on his 75th birthday:  (1) visit his wife, Kathy's grave and (2) join the army.  Ten years earlier, Perry and his wife had signed a letter of intent to join the Colonial Defense Forces.

You see, the good news about the future is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space.  The bad news is that planets fit to live on (or support complex life) are scarce.  The other races (or aliens) willing to fight for these scare planets are common, so the universe is a hostile place.  The Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) protects human interplanetary colonists.

Now, Perry takes the space elevator to CDF station.  It is the first step to training to fight in battles in ways that are totally different from how anyone or any military has ever fought on earth.  He travels to new planets, where he must sometimes kill the inhabitants, or kill other races that also want to colonize those planets.  Perry meets new people and new kinds of people and discovers things that are just new.  But before a 75-year-old man can fight for the CDF, he has to undergo a shocking change.

I don't like Old Man's War.  I love it; yes, “love” is the word that I want to use.  There were times that I stopped reading this book for a few days just to delay getting to the last page.  Of course, I later learned that Old Man's War is the first in a book series.

Old Man's War does remind me of Starship Troopers, which I read some time in the past ten years – I can't remember exactly when.  So this book is what Starship Troopers is, a military science fiction novel that is also philosophical about war and about why we (humans) fight wars – against ourselves and others.  Apparently, Robert Heinlein originally wrote Starship Troopers as an installment in his line juvenile science fiction novels.  With that in mind, Old Man's War came across to me as a boy's adventure novel with the boy being an old man who gets to have a great big old adventure thanks to war and future science.

I do not want to dismiss Old Man's War by genre or thematically, but sometimes, it is good enough that a novel is a great story.  And Old Man's War is a great story, a rousing adventure that captures the imagination. I read a lot of science fiction until my early 20s.  Since then, I have read it sporadically, occasionally seeking out books generally considered science fiction and fantasy classics.  Old Man's War feels like classic science fiction – a great yarn about strange aliens and strange places and about the science that can take us to those aliens and places.

Old Man's War is eternally youthful and fresh.  It is an ode to the best of science fiction, but told in a new voice so that the familiar still seems captivating.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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