Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (January 15, 2007)
Old Man’s War is set in the not so distant future of the human race. We’ve made it to the stars and beyond, which is good for the expansion of our colonies and the survival of the species. However, it turns out the universe is a much meaner and scarier place than first thought, full of alien races that think human-burgers are a great addition to their food chain.
Enter the Colonial Defense Force, a military organization tasked with protecting our colonies and establishing new ones. They recruit from Earth, but not in the traditional way. They take only those 75 years of age or over, who’ve lived their lives and have nothing else to hold them to the planet, as well as packing years of experience to temper their attitudes. Through a mysterious process unknown on Earth, the CDF has the ability to make people young again: the only catch? You can never return to Earth or speak with anyone on the planet ever again.
John Perry is one such senior citizen. His beloved wife is gone, his son is grown and well established, but he’s not ready to lay down and die just yet. He makes the choice to join the CDF and serve his ten years, then become a colonist. Old Man’s War is the story of his first two years in the CDF.
The story is a fascinating one. The people Perry meets are funny and interesting, and it’s easy to feel for him and them as they are transported (in more ways than one) far from everything they’ve every known. Perry’s ethics are stretched and twisted to the limit, as he must decide whether the price of human survival is worth the personal cost to the soldiers of the CDF. It’s Starship Troopers for old folks, as well as a dash of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? when it comes to the question of what makes one human.
I think Scalzi does a good job of acknowledging that his character comes with 75 years of history and portraying that through Perry’s thoughts and actions. Perry’s not a cocky hotshot, his actions are thought out and well-planned (most of the time) and it’s harder to rock him than it would be a true rookie recruit. Scalzi also doesn’t overuse this history, managing to keep the geezer jokes to a minimum except when absolutely necessary.
The women in the book are a little flat, in my opinion, but I think that’s true of all of the side characters. The story really is about John Perry, until most of the way through when we meet Jane Sagan. I won’t reveal her secrets, but she is a complex and amazing character, and her situation is very thought provoking. I think the addition of her character saves the story from a feminist perspective. I hope to see more of her in the books that follow Old Man’s War.
Early in the story we are introduced to a rather nasty character who voices some pretty racist opinions, and the main characters take great relish in knocking him down a few pegs. There are no main characters of color, but that’s not necessarily a reflection on the story. One of the plot devices used actually negates the existence of skin color, and after that it’s impossible to tell or judge any of the side characters on origin. This may be a case of whitewashing, so to speak, but I didn’t get that impression. The state of the human race is more important in this story than actual inter-relations between humans.
There is a gay character that Perry is friends with who features prominently in a large part of the story, and they’re very at ease about their friendship, which I think is pretty cool. There’s also casual mention of a menage a trois involving the gay character and another couple, and that’s a very open minded and relaxed take on alternative relationships, which is another plus in Scalzi’s favor.
All in all, this a great story with an interesting premise from a progressive author I hope to read more of. I’d definitely recommend it to any speculative fiction fan.
You can check out John Scalzi’s blog Whatever or follow him on Twitter @scalzi.