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Old Man's War Mass Market Paperback – January 15, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi's astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master. Seventy-five-year-old John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Force because he has nothing to keep him on Earth. Suddenly installed in a better-than-new young body, he begins developing loyalty toward his comrades in arms as they battle aliens for habitable planets in a crowded galaxy. As bloody combat experiences pile up, Perry begins wondering whether the slaughter is justified; in short, is being a warrior really a good thing, let alone being human? The definition of "human" keeps expanding as Perry is pushed through a series of mind-stretching revelations. The story obviously resembles such novels as Starship Trooper and Time Enough for Love, but Scalzi is not just recycling classic Heinlein. He's working out new twists, variations that startle even as they satisfy. The novel's tone is right on target, too—sentimentality balanced by hardheaded calculation, know-it-all smugness moderated by innocent wonder. This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF's past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they're approached with ingenuity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
With his wife dead and buried, and life nearly over at 75, John Perry takes the only logical course of action left him: he joins the army. Now better known as the Colonial Defense Force (CDF), Perry's service-of-choice has extended its reach into interstellar space to pave the way for human colonization of other planets while fending off marauding aliens. The CDF has a trick up its sleeve that makes enlistment especially enticing for seniors: the promise of restoring youth. After bonding with a group of fellow recruits who dub their clique the Old Farts, Perry finds himself in a new body crafted from his original DNA and upgraded for battle, including fast-clotting "smartblood" and a brain-implanted personal computer. All too quickly the Old Farts are separated, and Perry fights for his life on various alien-infested battlegrounds. Scalzi's blending of wry humor and futuristic warfare recalls Joe Haldeman's classic, The Forever War (1974), and strikes the right fan--pleasing chords to probably garner major sf award nominations. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The tech created in this book is beyond cool and believable at the same time as is the landscape of the galaxy. The part that I love the most is getting to see the whole thing through the eyes of a 75 year old who basically gets to become young again without losing his 75 years of life experience.
Without providing spoilers, the story takes place far in the future. Humans have advanced into interstellar space with far-flung colonies, but must compete for territory with numerous alien species, necessitating almost constant warfare. Soldiers are constantly recruited from among earthbound senior citizens, who then undergo some transformations to turn them into fighting specimens. The story follows one such recruit, 75-year-old widower John Perry. Perry's in for a number of surprises, but proves more than worthy as the story evolves. This is fairly straightforward space opera from a very good writer who keeps his story moving and does not over-do it. I recommend John Scalzi's (first in a series) "Old Man's War".
John Scalzi has a wicked sense of humor; this book starts off with a fantastically trite and sardonic perspective (told through a first person narrative). Despite this book being billed as a sci-fi adventure book, a large portion of the first third or so of this book is told with a very sarcastic bend, which, frankly, makes some otherwise unsettling or nerve-rattling scenes a little easier to take. Additionally, a lot of Scalzi's ideas for this story, while inspired heavily by things like "Starship Troopers" and other classic sci-fi tales, are rather intriguing and solidly thought out, with just enough originality to avoid simple imitation. Indeed, at just about the point that the reader starts coming up with a lot of questions about a presented concept, Scalzi has a character start to answer most (though not all) of those questions. Additionally, Scalzi does a very good job with character dialogue and pacing in this story; he's the kind of author that is obviously good at telling stories in this sense. And for the most part, the events in this story are handled very well.
However, where things tend to break down a bit are the more technical aspects of this story. There are aliens in this novel, I'll just come out and say that. But as a concept, the idea of there being aliens was presented to the reader in a rather confusing and somewhat bungled manner ... it's hard to explain without spoilers, or large plot synopsis, but basically, it didn't work well. But after that, Scalzi just casually throws around that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of known sentient alien races, and proceeds to name at more than a half-dozen of them in this book alone. And yet really, only 2 of them receive any real attention, with another 2 or 3 being covered in brief encounters. This seemed a bit overwhelming ... but this is made somewhat worse by the fact that none of these aliens are ever described in any real detail. The most described alien race is the only one that is mentioned twice, but even then, it's only described in a round-about manner, with no comprehensive "first-impression" type of breakdown. And in the context of the narrative, there's really not a good reason for this failing. In fact, Scalzi rarely stops to provide extensive physical descriptions in this story, whether it be for new alien species, or for a human character. Also, I'm just going to say it now: there are sentient one-inch tall aliens in this book ... as physically impossible as I'm certain that is.
Further, Scalzi also lacks, many times, in providing full context for some scenes, leaving me confused as to the specifics of certain events. While taking a lighter angle to narration is often the contemporary style, here Scalzi sometimes seems to skim over things, leaving events relayed more as a news bulletins or after-action reports than actual accountings. And while the first third or so of this book starts out VERY strong (there is a particularly funny drill sergeant bit about halfway through that shows that Scalzi is great at the long-form joke), the last half or so kind of falls into a standard military shoot 'em up format. Towards this later portion, there are tantalizing bits hinting at certain ethical or emotional dilemmas that could have been developed into something enlightening, but that just kind of get lost after the narrative moves to the next battle. And that's a large portion of why I give this book 4 stars ... Scalzi seems to have gotten SO CLOSE to something border-line genius in scope and philosophy, but then passes it by.
Overall, despite the short-comings and the criticisms I had, I loved the book, which ends on a rather bitter-sweet note, and look forward to reading the next in the series.