Sunday, May 28, 2017

Old Man's War by John Scalzi review

    Old Man's War is a book series I decided to pick up after finishing The Collapsing Empire. John Scalzi had intrigued me with his irreverent brand of humor as well as world-building, so I wanted to check out his most famous series. Having finished the first book, I've immediately picked up the second and am eager to finish the entirety of it because it's well worth it. Even so, I'm only going to give it a four of five stars. This is due to the fact the first half of the book is substantially better than the second.

    The premise is in the far future, humanity has not changed substantially on Earth but has become indebted to its own Colonial Defense Force that keeps it bottled up. No one leaves planet Earth without their say so and the only people who do are colonists (who must never contact the Earth again) or recruits. The interesting thing about the latter is the only people available to volunteer for the military are seventy-five-year-olds. The geriatric of Earth are promised young healthy bodies if they agree to two years of service (inevitably extended to ten). John Perry, having lost his wife, decides he's got nothing to lose but a few more years of lonely living so he proceeds to sign up.

    The first half of the novel follows John Perry as he explores his new universe, deals with the technology available to the Colonial Union, and also copes with the pains of old age as well as loss. The brief section between where he acquires his new green-skinned Adonis body and his deployment is also some of the funniest I've read in fiction. Unfortunately, the second half goes downhill rapidly as he's no longer really an old man in his new body or at least distinguishable as one and the sci-fi action is too uncomfortable to be the farce its going for as well as too silly to be genuinely dramatic.

    I think a large portion of what you will think of this novel is going to depend on your familiarity with Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and I don't mean the Verhoven adaptation of it. That was already a parody of the original novel. Starship Troopers the novel is the quintessential Young Adult novel about war. Young boy joins the military, the military makes a man out of him, and he finds the true meaning of honor in the blowing up of hostile murderous insectoid aliens. Scalzi inverts the premise and apes the style of Heinlein too much for the comparisons not to be deliberate and the results are genuinely impressive.

    Part of what made Starship Troopers controversial was the fact the Bugs were depicted as basically Daleks or Borg in the fact they're completely impossible to reason with as well implacable to the point only one side would be walking away from a conflict with them. Unlike the Doctor or Star Trek's Federation, the humans in Starship Troopers were entirely cool with eliminating the Bugs so it was just a matter of time until they were exterminated (or humanity was). Old Man's War parodies this trope by having it taught to the soldiers in the war that all aliens really are as hostile as the ones in Starship Troopers but this turning out to be horse manure. In this respect, it has a bit of the Forever War in it too.

    There's also a romance which is meant to be touching between John and a memory-less clone of his wife in the story but falls completely flat for multiple reasons, not the least being age as well as the creeptacular elements of it. The idea his wife could be replaced by a copy just rubs me the wrong way even as the book is clear that it is just her genetics rather than personality.

    In conclusion, I'm glad I picked up this book and did enjoy it but felt it could have been better. The central premise got drifted from too much and it lost its uniqueness of voice when, well, it stopped being an old man's war. Despite this, the book is funny and the world-building tremendous with Scalzi having an engrossing style.


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