on August 9, 2005
The title of my review isn't fair; I'm making it sound as though John Scalzi's first novel is a mishmash of Robert A. Heinlein works. It's not; in fact it's refreshingly original, and you certainly don't have to be a Heinlein fan (or even to have read Heinlein) in order to enjoy and appreciate it. But as Scalzi himself remarks in his acknowledgements, the influence _is_ fairly obvious.
At any rate, I really like the book -- and on its own merits, not just because it reminds me of Heinlein. (Nor is it just because the hero, John Nicholas Perry, hails from the county seat of Darke County in my home state of Ohio, where Scalzi now lives.) Scalzi is a fine writer and his ideas sparkle off the page.
I won't spoil anything for you; just keep your eyes peeled for at least one really cool idea every three or four pages. (And if Scalzi hasn't blown your mind within the first couple hundred pages, it'll happen when Alan Rosenthal explains how the skip drive works.) I can't really tell you anything specific without giving away something better left for you to discover as you read.
I can say in general, though, that Scalzi has a pretty healthy sense of what it will take for human beings to colonize other planets in a universe that contains other sentient species. (And I think he has a better appreciation of moral ambiguity than Heinlein did even on his best day.) He's also got a knack for thinking up clever and gruesome ways for people to die. Oh, and there's a lot of nicely handled bittersweet stuff that may bring tears to your eyes if you're inclined to that sort of thing.
All in all, a fine first novel; I'll look forward to reading his next (_Agent to the Stars_) as well as what appears to be a sequel currently in the works (_The Ghost Brigades_). And welcome to Ohio, John.
I'm not a hardcore reader of science fiction, but I've heard a lot of good things about John Scalzi, so I thought I would give this book I try. I found OLD MAN'S WAR enjoyable, but surprisingly lightweight.
This novel begins superbly. The main character is a 75-year old man who has volunteered for military service. He is very likable person, and the story begins with his enlistment and his transformation into a fighting machine. All of this is fun, imaginative and very well done. I had great hopes for the rest of this novel as a result.
Unfortunately, OLD MAN'S WAR takes a bit of a tumble after the first third. This book essentially becomes a military war story, and Scalzi does a subpar job of supplying any of the supporting characters with a distinct personality. To a large degree, I found most of them rather boring and interchangeable. There is a lot of action in this book, and a fair number of characters die, but I couldn't care less because I never really got to know any of them. The result is a less than compelling read.
There is also a ton of jokey dialogue in OLD MAN'S WAR, which I found rather jarring, given the serious themes that Scalzi seemed interesting in exploring. I enjoy humor in a book, but not the sort of endless wisecracking that I found here. As another reviewer commented, it's hard to believe any of these characters is 75 years old. They sound more like a group of smart-alecky college kids, each trying to one-up the other in the joke department.
That being said, Scalzi has a first-rate creative mind, and I enjoyed the world-building he did for OLD MAN'S WAR. He also writes in a smooth style that's pretty easy to read, and the story moves at a fast clip. Many of the fight scenes are well done. I was able to finish this book, and I enjoyed it for the most part despite its flaws.
Overall, OLD MAN'S WAR a good read, but the instant classic that some people have been claiming. Lower your expectations, and you should have a good time with it.
I went back and forth between four stars and five. On the one hand, this novel is not great literature on the level of say, "Dune" by Frank Herbert. On the other hand, "Old Man's War" is a terrific read, very imaginative, and not terribly implausible.
No spoilers here, so my discussion of the story will be limited. The essential premise and storyline is that in the near future, Earth/humankind have discovered the "skip drive" which is a method of interstellar space travel. Mankind quickly learns that valuable planets are a scarce commodity and there are several intelligent races in our neck of the Galaxy that as a matter of routine try to use military force to take planets away from other races. Including, of course, human colonial planets. Accordingly, to protect Earth and also to protect colony worlds, the "Colonial Defense Force" enlists elderly human beings on Earth as soldiers to protect the colony worlds. The protagonist in the novel is such a one.
The novel includes pretty strong character development. It manages to make some of the characters both lifelike and alien. This is no small feat and a task that most science fiction authors struggle with. Here, the author succeeds.
The author's speculations about what interaction between mankind and aliens will be like are startling. The reader can decide for him or her self whether they are plausible. I was not able to say that they were implausible, at any rate.
The novel contains dazzling speculation about the future destiny of humanity in space and technology in general. This, combined with a fast-moving storyline and solid plot, earns this one five stars in my opinion. Quite frankly, this is far and away the best science fiction novel that I have read since "Dune" and "The Forever War" and it gives my old favorite "The Forever War" a run for its money in terms of which is my favorite military science fiction novel of all time. Any lover of "hard" science fiction will want to snap this one up, and I imagine "Old Man's War" is destined for Hugo and Nebula awards.
on January 13, 2009
From the first page, I was hooked. I was with the man through the beginning of his journey, but things went down hill in the middle. I didn't think I was reading the same book. The build up of the relationships, along with John Perry entering his new body in the first half were the best part of the book, so much so that I felt it whenever he recounted the deaths of the Old Farts, as they called their little group.
Here's what threw me in the middle.
1.) As a veteran, I didn't buy the boot camp scenes at all. Drill Instructors hate all recruits, whether or not they made an ad that saved their life, and not to mention Master Sergeant Ruiz wasn't believable, just a figure filling every Drill Instructor cliche in the world.
2.) The gun. Give me a break. A solid block of nanites can become any kind of ammunition? I can buy a weapon that uses a single mass of ammunition to form different kinds of solid projectiles, but grenades? Guided missiles? A flame thrower? The last one I found wholly unbelievable. Science-fiction needs some kind of rational base, otherwise it's just fantasy with a technical veneer. And I'm a little wary of this whole magical nanite trend I see going around.
3.) Where's the artillery? Where's their supporting fire? Armored vehicles? Power Armor? Battle suits? I would imagine that these new bodies they are given are expensive, not to mention the cost of getting the old people to the station, the medical tests, the large amount of staff to screen and prep them we're introduced too. You'd think they would invest in protecting these assets, like providing, oh, I don't know, a helmet! There were two very obvious instances where soldiers would have lived if they had had this ancient invention. The body armor they wore, high tech as it was, seemed the bare minimum. Maybe the author should play Crysis or something. Overall, the author seemed to rely more on military cliche and common image than to think of something new (foxholes are useless, even counter-productive against an enemy that burrows underground). Another reviewer said that they used WWII-era tactics; I think that's an insult to our WWII vets, honestly.
4.) The aliens. Why do so many species have to find humans as good eatin'? This seems more of a weak attempt to shock or scare the reader into believing the need to fight, rather than tackling any complex issues of war, peace, and diplomacy. And don't get me started on the Covandu. One inch tall? Give me a break. That part read more like a gorefest version of Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It would have been pure comedy if the rest of the book didn't take itself so heavily. I nearly put it down then. And, there were just too many races. Give me two or three, really well-developed species rather than dozens and dozens of two sentence, weirdness-filled descriptions, all with the same motivation.
5.) The premise for the book was putting old people into new, young and heavily modified bodies to fight a war where their experience and maturity would benefit their forces. Yet, their experience never comes to bear. In fact, we're beaten over the head with the fact that their experience means nothing as they've never experienced anything like what they're about to see; see Master Sergeant Ruiz.
It picked up in the end, and the left hook he threw in there actually turned out to be pretty thrilling and got me going to the end. The prose is easy to read, a nice change nowadays. The Consu stand out among the aliens, and they turned out to be pretty cool with a differing motivation than conquer, kill, eat, repeat. But still, the glaring problems which I have illustrated here prevent me from calling it a favorite.
on May 9, 2009
This book started out interestingly enough, with a good premise, but quickly degenerated into an unintentional comedy. They say, "Write what you know," but this author obviously doesn't know much about the military, warfare, or anything to do with combat arms.
The main character's drill instructor is a MasterSergeant, with this space age military apparently using current rank structure, this makes him an E-8, with the highest enlisted rank being E-9. Sorry, the military doesn't use E-8's to train individual platoons. Those are Sergeants and Staff Sergeants, (E-5's and E-6).
In his very first battle, he figures out the very obvious solution to killing the aliens when none of the hardened veterans of multiple battles with aliens can't, thus saving the day? Gimme a break...
In his first couple of months of service, he's promoted from private to Captain because of his innate battlefield genious, all borne of his background as some advertising writer? Gimme a break...
In one of the most amusing battles, our hero is pitted against alien humanoids that are all an an inch tall, and the best military solution to eradicating his dreadful foe, (in an age of instaneous space travel, nanotech armor and weapons that can meet nearly every need except actually protecting the soldier from being blown away by common projectiles, including rocks,) is to have the soldiers run around and stomp on their tiny human like foes, (which leads the hero into a great depression over the morality of war.) Gimme a break...
The author's concept of normal conversation sounds like people who are constantly trying, (too hard by half,) to be clever and filled with high wit rather than people who actually possess these traits.
I got the kindle version, and it wasn't worth the money spent. The only mildly redeeming aspect after an intriguing beginning was the unintentional humor
The characters are all comic book stereotypes, with about as much depth as your average comic book's thickness, from alien enemies to mankind's heroic defenders.
Some interesting concepts that fell flat due to a lack of imagination and even basic knowledge about the basic subject, (warfare,) the author is trying to write about.
on July 26, 2007
I must admit that prior to reading this book I was barely aware that 'military SF' existed as a genre. Since this book is considered by some to be a pinnacle work within the field I shall not be investigating it any further.
I have read both "Forever War" and "Starship Troopers", the books most commonly referenced, for comparison, by reviewers of this work. While this book does take some ideas wholesale from the latter, it pains me to see it compared to either of these much more substantial works. Although it is like reading a lesser work from the fifties as it has all clunkiness of mediocre old-style Hard SF. With the benefit of fifty years hindsight I would expect the author to offer something fresher. Anyone who thinks that the author has come up with an original concept, technologically or otherwise should actually read a bit more SF. I don't consider myself to be an expert but I didn't find a truly novel concept in the book.
The author uses two rather irritating devices to make his life easier: firstly it is written in the first person, allowing him to claim that the drab style of the writing is down to the character and the lack of any credible explanations of the book's many inconsistencies is because the character chooses not to give them.
Secondly, for no adequately explained reason all the people in the armed forces are recruited exclusively in America. This is pretty objectionable and leads to the dialogue between the characters being annoyingly like sales executives at a conference("well gee Bob what's up with this Skip Drive thingummy?"..."Well John I'm a physicist and my theory is...").
To be honest the book fails to deliver in all areas. It is slow and dull at the start, then becomes violent and dull. The author seems to feel the need to describe even the most mundane events in detail while glossing over all the 'whys and wherefores' of the larger picture.
The people in the book are supposed to have 75yrs experience behind them(although you would never know it from the way they talk or act)and are drawn from a wide variety of(American)backgrounds and yet nobody questions the moral or philosophical implications of what they are doing.
At one point the main character feels a bit upset about all the mindless killing he is doing but as soon as it is explained to him that this is 'normal' he shrugs his shoulders and carries on as before.
Another time a character puts the point of view that a different approach(involving the use of diplomacy)could be considered, but since he is an ex-politician, you can imagine how sympathetic his position is supposed to be. He receives his comeuppance in a heavy-handedly predictable way that is typical of the books style(of course thousands of alien are killed in retribution for the loss of this one(unpopular)human life) .
The way the troops in this book conduct themselves could be seen as a sly comment on the Iraq situation. In reality I suspect its more a case of "there is no need to moralise as we're killing aliens not people".
All the above would probably be excusable if the book supplied the excitement promised. It doesn't.
Philip F. Hamilton's work has it's flaws but he does the battle stuff("Night's Dawn Trilogy") infinitely better when he needs to, without making it the whole story.
on May 28, 2006
John Scalzi's debut novel, Old Man's War has an intriguing premise, some interesting science fiction concepts, and a complete ability to ignore military SF cliches that usually turn me off from this kind of book. It's a wonderful little book, violent but not overly graphic (though there are a couple of scenes that go beyond that), and it's certainly worth all of the accolades that have been heaped on it. Only the fact that it's a bit slow to get to the meat of the action drags it down even a little bit.
Earth has reached the stars, and been slammed back into isolation. Humans are out there colonizing the galaxy, but Earth itself is cut off from it, becoming almost a backwater in comparison to everything else. The Colonial Defense Force (CDF) insures that this remains so. On the other hand, once you turn seventy-five, you can enlist in the CDF, go out and see the universe, and kill lots of aliens who are out to kill you too. You'll just never see Earth again. John Perry has decided to take this route, and Old Man's War tells the story of this decision, and what he runs into when he gets out there. What he learns when he gets there is beyond what he could ever have imagined. He gets a new, grown body (green and all) that will make him young again (even if he's not completely human any more) and the extreme possibility of dying out in the mean universe. But he could be dead in ten years anyway, in a broken down body, on Earth, so why not go out where his death means something? Will John be a successful soldier, not only surviving but rising in the ranks? Or will he just be more cannon-fodder for the human colonies?
Scalzi is on record (in a Usenet post when asked about his military experience) as saying that he wanted Old Man's War to be accessible by his grandmother, who has no interest in things military. This meant that he wasn't going to spend a great deal of time on infantry tactics, technology, and the jingoism that many military SF novels embrace. The weapon of choice for the CDF is an adaptable rifle that fires five types of ammunition and can change on the fly, and he spends a bare amount of time making any explanations for the science of the situations he presents, such as the "skip drive" that gets everybody from Point A to Point B. It's the military SF novel for those who can't stand the genre, and I loved it for that.
Still, Scalzi doesn't completely avoid the science, and there are a couple of "theoretical" (as in, one of the characters who doesn't really know a whole lot about it is theorizing) explanatory scenes that seek to get this sort of thing out of the way. I found this appropriate given the situation that Scalzi presents. The humans that are enlisting don't know any of this stuff. The CDF keeps humans ignorant of it intentionally, so Scalzi is able to gloss over it a bit. While I did find it appropriate, I also thought that these occasional theorizing scenes slowed the book down much more than they should have (though certainly much less than they would have if they had been fully explained, and yes, I'm speaking to you, Mr. Weber!)
Scalzi gets the characterization down perfectly, creating a great "hero" in Perry. He's intelligent and he rises through the ranks fairly quickly by using his brain. The friendships that Perry forms when he first enlists seem very logical, as these people have been thrown together into a strange situation with no visible support apparatus. Even the fact that the first thing these older people do when they get young bodies is to enjoy themselves with as many people as possible is certainly understandable, and Perry's first scene like this is hilarious (though none of it is actually shown, for those prudes among us).
There is only one characterization misstep, and I'd say the good and the bad of the character even out. Perry's drill instructor, Master Sergeant Ruiz, is hilariously portrayed by Scalzi, with all of the typical movie drill instructor attitude. Even better is that he acknowledges the drill instructor stereotype, insisting that the recruits get that stereotype out of their heads because he's not going to gain "grudging respect" for them. He doesn't like any of them. This is all refreshing, acknowledging the clichés and then moving beyond them. Unfortunately, after his brilliant opening scene, we don't see a lot of him, and the description of subsequent events make him seem like the drill instructor that we all are familiar with. Only his last scene with Perry really moves above this.
The other small problem with Old Man's War is that it takes a long time to get through the setup of the setting. This is mitigated by the entertaining way that Scalzi writes these sequences, but it takes almost half the book before Perry actually gets into the action. The rest is his journey to the CDF and the establishing of the galaxy and his place in it. It's only a small problem because Scalzi does make it interesting, but I wish some of it could have been condensed.
Overall, Old Man's War is a wonderful book, one that I raced through because I was loving every minute of it. If you absolutely hate the genre of military SF, then you may find that even this book won't be enjoyable. But if you're just annoyed with a lot of the military SF that's out there, give this one a shot. It's an excellent debut novel, setting up an interesting situation, with characters that are a lot more compelling than in others of the genre. This one's worth a shot.
on July 12, 2011
Scalzi has a popular blog and all the social connections that matter in being a geek, so I've heard a lot of praise for Old Man's War. It has a compelling premise: 75-year-old humans are recruited to fight in a war that the recruitees know nothing about and powered by technology that does not exist on the home planet. The book slides along thanks in part to Scalzi's witty dialogue and punctual prose. The plot owes much to Starship Troopers and Scalzi admits as much in the acknowledgements. I probably won't be reading the later entries in the series. For one, the premise doesn't really tie in to the action or the climax. There's really no reason the recruits need to be old men and women isolated from the technological future brought to the present by the CDF except for that it makes for a good introduction to the universe for the reader. I was a little disappointed by that. The action was fast paced, but I don't feel there is much change in the world by the end. I can see why others like it. The story just wasn't my bag.
on August 25, 2005
There are some really fun bits in this book, but there's definitely something lacking. The good part first: the style is nice, the characters are fairly distinctive, the book reads easily, the pacing is quite good and the starting concept is fascinating. However, things start to fall apart once we get into Starship Troopers/The Forever War territory.
The concept of recruiting geriatrics in order to fight a war is so full of implications that the entire book could have been written around the social aspects of only that. However, after the first third of the book our 'Old Farts' are in fresh new bodies and acting like 20-year-olds. Not that much of a problem, but it pretty much cuts the legs out from under the book's primary raison d'etre.
Where things go a bit off the rails is the numerous battle scenes. They're well written, exciting and fun. But they have the exact same problem as the movie Starship Troopers (as opposed to the book) - we're watching vastly futuristic troops fighting with WWII-era tactics. Plus, we're covering the same ground Heinlein did. Not that there's really anything wrong with that, but it's not incredibly interesting the second time around and it's definitely not what the cover and the title promised.
By the final act we've segued firmly into The Forever War territory, complete with characters questioning the futility of war, the nature of humanity and looking forward to retirement. There's even a completely derivative ending where one character asks another to wait for them so they can retire to the paradise planet and be together forever. Yawn.
Overall, it's a good read but it doesn't fulfill the promise of it's title. Now, an entire war being run by expendable geriatrics via remote control is a completely different matter and could have made a good book. But that would be some sort of reversed version of Ender's Game and this book is a rehash of Heinlein and Haldeman. Fine if you like that sort of thing (and I do), but nothings particularly original here.
on March 17, 2016
After reading so many references to OMW, I finally bought and read it. I'm torn. There's a number of issues but would first like to say I believe it is well written, Mr Scalzi is a professional writer. No doubt about that.
I've read All Quiet on the Western Front more than any other book, for a number of reasons. My family fought it and my grandfather spent 4 years in the trenches and was bitter about it to the day he died at 88 yrs old. Same thing happened 20+ yrs later with my family and my dad spending 3+ yrs on eastern front, somewhat bitter also. And then, 20+ yrs later , after moving to USA, hill n border fights 67-68-69 and ironically, we trenched a lot. I guess obvious why All Quiet is up there on my A list.
All that to remark on my 'perceived' similarities between this and All Quiet. I know, people speak of similarities between this and Heinlein's Troopers. And I'd like to comment on that later. In All Quiet, Paul and his schoolmates are urged to join by their elders 'for the fatherland'. Here, the young, Colonials, entice the elderly of well off nations on Earth to fight for humanity. And as the war rages, Pauls school mates die off one by one until he's the last. OMW, the 'club' starts dying off one by one. I know that when one thinks of 'war', there are usually many similarities pointed out like the horror. Meaning if you read one, you've read them all? They both speak to never ending war/fighting, the different ways of dying, 750 of 1000 dying or high casualties, etc. There's more....... so I can't help but think if OMW was thinking considered Remarque's work. They parted ways at the 3/4 mark or so. Still, I don't usually read acknowledgements but I did and there was nothing there to indicate a connection.
It was evident early on that the author was not a veteran and probably didn't serve. His choice of squad leaders,managers, was a starting clue. LEADERS -- not the same nor same league as a manager. There was no depth of the CDF -- composition of a company, tactics plus so much more. I know, like he said, all aliens are different so blah, blah, blah. Gotta start somewhere and maintain continuity, very important to us dogs.
And that's a big difference that I don't get when people are saying Heinlein, who was Navy and might have graduated from Annapolis, and this work. Troopers had a lot of stuff going -- politics, militarism, etc -- on but Mr Heinlein's military was very credible.
Now maybe somewhere in other OMW books there's a good explanation why us Earth folk, who I believe invented the drive that allowed us to go wush, are not any kind of players on the interstellar, galactic scene. Maybe I'm dense or I missed it but I just didn't get it and it seemed kinda big to me. Many SF authors are down on Earth and I'm tired of it. And let's not forget the ladies whose psychology was 75 year driven and then changed over night with those great bodies. Big difference between 'combat' and getting it on and actually having to fight. Oh Yeah, women buy books too!
Too many holes, inconsistencies and I don't want to spend $50,$60 more to find out why Earth gets shafted.