Monday, May 16, 2005

Old Man's War

On his seventy-fifth birthday, John Perry visits his wife’s grave – and then he enlists. In John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, the universe is a nasty place. Intelligent species are common, generally hostile, and good real estate is as common as a cheap oceanfront lot in California. The Colonial Defense Forces must fight tooth and nail (and tentacle, and claw . . .) for every livable planet. Why sign up a bunch of geezers? Their experiences are invaluable to the colonies, so the logic goes, and they have nothing much to lose. John Perry in particular has nothing to lose. His beloved wife is dead. They had planned to enlist together, but she died from a stroke eight years ago. And why do the geezers want to join? Blind faith, really: thanks to the CDF’s interactions with alien races, they are technologically advanced relative to Earth. Surely they must be able to turn old farts into killing machines. (Oh boy, can they.) No one down here on Earth knows; one condition of enlistment is that the recruit agrees never to go home again. Before long, John is a green recruit struggling through basic training. After that, he’s a cog in the CDF machine, traveling to foreign worlds, meeting unique races, and killing them. I’d say, “And that’s when the fun begins,” except that Old Man’s War is a romp right from the start. OMW is bound to stir memories of The Forever War and Starship Troopers. It even reminded me (pleasantly) of Harry Harrison’s Bill the Galactic Hero. Like Bill, and like Forever War, OMW is all about entertainment: action, adventure, humor, and even a poignant love story which did not feel the least bit grafted. Scalzi gives more than a passing nod to Robert Heinlein in his acknowledgments. The novel’s main Heinleinism – the way the action intermittently grinds to a halt to allow the characters to hold a roundtable discussion – is my primary quibble. (I have other quibbles, but they’re petty enough to qualify me as a snark, so I’ll shut up.) Fortunately, this does not happen too often. And, unlike Heinlein, Scalzi does this for the sake of exposition rather than political diatribe. Perhaps less obvious is the debt Scalzi owes Jack Vance. I see Vance as the consummate author of cultural science fiction (his short story “The Moon Moth” is a great example). One of the coolest things about OMW is the Consu, an ultra-advanced race who think they’re doing us a favor by killing us. As in Vance’s stories, the Consu culture is more than just local color – it’s a key plot element. Old Man’s War is the most fun I’ve had with a science fiction novel since Snow Crash. This novel doesn’t try to blow your mind with post-Singularity trans-human gobbledygook, and it doesn’t pretend to be cyber-punker than Gibson. It’s an old-fashioned pulpy joyride: Scalzi has made entertainment paramount. D.


Blogger Jona said...

Good review, Doug. You've convinced me and I'm off to Amazon :o)

5/19/2005 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hold your horses. In a day or two, I'm gonna post my wife's opinion on this one. (She no like.)

5/19/2005 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger razorsmile said...

green recruit

HA! :D

(Anyone who's read the book knows why that's so funny.)

1/03/2006 09:06:00 PM  
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