Monday, January 4, 2010

Old Man's War - John Scalzi

Old Man's War
John Scalzi
Tor Books
Copyright: 2005

Back cover blurb:
John Perry did two things on his seventy-fifth 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 new is that planets fit to live on are scarce - and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are inthe hands of the Colonial Defense Forces. 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 dacades of living. You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve two years 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 of 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 Man's War is a book that more than lives up to the review quotes on the cover. I really couldn't put it down once I started reading it the other day. It was a Hugo Award finalist too. Quite the accomplishment for a first novel! What got me to pick it up though, was the comparison to Robert Heinlein's writing in the Publisher's Weekly quote. I like his stuff, so thought I'd give this one a try. Well, well worth it, and I'm going to have to try and hunt down the next book, The Ghost Brigades ( link) soon.

This book is timeless. It feels like Heinlein's writing, which means it seems as if it could have been written any time in the last fifty years or so, although it came out in 2005. I'd bet Scalzi's writing is something that will last the way the early masters of science fiction have.

The book makes you think a bit as well. Although things are very different in that world, they're also the same in attitudes too. There are some things that I would have liked to have a bit more explanation on, given that the book starts by dropping us into the story and it's assumed that we know the same things John Perry, the main character does. It's mostly some of the background for the story though.

What is it that makes us human? Old Man's War raises that very question a few times, and the characters answer it too.

Overall, the story worked, characters, plot and science. And it's all done in a way that doesn't immediately scream "that's impossible!". Not every writer has managed that, but John Scalzi sure has. I'm sure I'm going to be re-reading this book some time in the future again.

He's also thrown in some interesting plot twists, some of which are hinted at early in the book (although you'd never expect it when they turn up). I really don't want to give away any of the surprises though, so I don't think I can say anything else.

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