Book Review: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-and aliens willing to fight for them are common. The universe, it turns out, is a hostile place.

So: we fight. To defend Earth (a target for our new enemies, should we let them get close enough) and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force, which shields the home planet from too much knowledge of the situation. What’s known to everybody is that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve your time at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine-and what he will become is far stranger.

old-mans-warI ultimately decided to read Old Man’s War for two reasons. The first is that I had read John Scalzi’s Redshirts and decided he was the kind of author whose books I wanted to read. Second, I had also somewhat recently read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and this book seemed like it was going to fit right into the same vein as those two in regards to style and story. I was correct in that assumption in basically every way, but Scalzi also added a dash of humor and a whole lot of straight up fun to the recipe as well to make the model his own.

The very idea of being able to receive a brand new, fully functioning, and vastly improved body at the ripe age of 75 years seems like a dream come true on the surface. Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that type of offer? As the reader soon discovers, there are a lot of reasons you might not; sudden death for example. As the Colonial Union makes its vast trek across the sky it needs soldiers and the elderly of Earth are the ones they’ve chosen to fill that role with. By given them new bodies that can do all sorts of amazing things they give these elderly folks a new take on life; as long as they are willing to die for that life of course.

Old Man’s War visits a lot of themes about life and growing old that made me step back and take a few minutes to think about how I’ll be spending my later years. Obviously I won’t be getting a new body like John Perry and Jane Sagan, but I’ll certainly have to find something to do with my time. Despite all of the humor and fun that runs rampant through the pages of this book I found plenty of things that made me think.

As John Perry, the main character, makes his way through this new and amazing life he’s been given he runs into Jane Sagan, a member of the Ghost Brigades special forces unit that ultimately winds up saving his life at one point. What’s strange about that is the fact that Jane just so happens to look exactly like John’s previously deceased wife. It turns out that the Colonial Union has the ability to use the genetic material from those who have already died to create unique soldiers for the Ghost Brigades who are not exactly clones like John Perry’s new body was. Interesting, interesting, interesting.

John and Jane develop into a pair that has all sorts of things to learn about each other and it’s almost like they are dating, but not really. I really liked how Scalzi weaved them together as a pair and played them off of each other to further the story without falling back on them ultimately needing to be involved in a romantic relationship in the book. It was a fresh take that I enjoyed and don’t see often.

Grade: B
Length: 332 pages

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