Feb 23, 2009

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
When John Perry turns seventy-five, he joins the Colonial Defence Forces. Joining the army at his time of life is not as odd as you might be thinking. Seventy-five is, in fact, the minimum enlisting age. Nobody on Earth knows all that much about the CDF, but rumour has it that they have a way of restoring your youth. You're required to serve for at least two years, defending human colonies against alien attacks. Then, if you survive, you’ll be allowed to settle in one of the colonies yourself. The only “but” is that you’re never allowed to return to Earth again. But for someone like John Perry, with not much left to tie him to the world, that's not a bad deal.

John Perry, as well as everyone else who enlists, doesn’t quite know what to expect. But what he and the other “Old Farts” (what he and the group of people he befriends on the space shuttle call themselves) discover is beyond their wildest imaginings.

Old Man’s War is a funny and action-filled military sci-fi story. But it’s really just as funny as it is serious and sad. It's about fighting, yes, but doesn’t glorify war. Nor does it do the opposite, as the horrible fate of one particular pacifist squad member shows us. What it does is show that things have costs. It refuses to approach matters simplistically. It looks under the surface; it asks questions. John Perry doesn’t fight out of a sense of entitlement or moral superiority. He looks at things realistically, and what he sees are several life forms, none inherently more deserving than the others, fighting because they want the same resources. It really comes down to that.

I absolutely loved the human side of the story (which, if you were wondering, is a big part of it). John’s reminiscing about his wife, his connection with his friends, the losses he suffers, the doubts he has. There were one or two scenes that made me teary-eyed, actually. (Alright, make that three or four.) Maybe you wouldn't think so from the plot summary, but the story is full of very touching scenes.

I think I’ve mentioned before that, unlike what happens with fantasy worlds, I can sometimes have a little trouble getting into sci-fi worlds. This doesn't happen with TV series at all, but with books it does for some reason. Well, Old Man’s War was definitely an exception. I was invested in the story from the very start, and I liked John Perry right away. I was sucked in by the humour, the great dialogue, the action, the characters. Everything, really. Sometimes I’m a bit wary of reading books that are part of a series, because the last thing I need is to get hooked on yet another series. This time, though, I’m so glad there are sequels. I want to return to this world. I want to spend more time with these characters. I want to know what happens next.

One very important detail: Scalzi named two minor characters, two members of John Perry’s squad, Gaiman and McKean. How absolutely awesome is that?

Favourite bits:
“There’s no stable ground here,” I said. “There’s nothing out there I feel really safe about. My marriage had its ups and downs like anyone’s, but when it came down to it, I knew it was solid. I miss that sort of security, and that sort of connection with someone. Part of what makes us human is what we mean to other people, and what people mean to us. I miss meaning something to someone, having that part of being human. That’s what I miss about marriage.”

Susan’s death was clarifying to me, a reminder that humans can be as inhuman as any alien species. If I had been on the Tucson, I could see myself feeding one of the bastards who killed Susan to the gapers, and not feeling in the least bad about it. I don’t know if this made me better or worse than what I had feared I was becoming when we battled the Convandu. But I no longer worried about it making me any less human than I was before.

“What is it like when you lose someone you love?” Jane asked.
“You die too,” I said. “And you wait around for your body to catch up.”
“Is that what you’re doing now?” Jane said. “Waiting for your body to catch up, I mean.”
“Not, not anymore,” I said. “You eventually get to live again. You just live a different life, is all.”

Other Opinions:
Bart’s Bookshelf
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Devourer of Books
Stella Matutina
So Many Books, So Little Time
Bold Blue Adventure
Bottle of Shine
Stainless Steel Droppings
Piling on the Books
Flight Into Fantasy

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. Oh my, that last quote alone would have sold me, if I wasn't already sold, that is.

  2. Oooh, this sounds good. Thanks for the great review.

  3. Cannot wait to read this book! I will admit I skimmed most of the review in a haphazard attempt to avoid spoilers, but I'll come back and read it properly once I've finished.

  4. That last quote alone makes me want to read this - even though I tend to really shy away from series.

    Also, I'm a little more than halfway into Blindness - and I can see why you had a hard time with it....

  5. Oh, another one for the list. Thanks for that!!!

  6. Okay, I *must* add it to the wish list now. I hope my library has it!

  7. I've been looking for a good sci-fi to get me back into the genre. I had picked up "Rendevous with Rama" (Clarke) but put it back after deciding that I needed to *ease* myself back in. This sounds great.

  8. Eva: Isn't it lovely?

    Debi: You'll enjoy this! You really will.

    Nely, you're welcome! It's very very good.

    Meghan: I do that too sometimes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Saveophelia: Even though it's part of a series, it works as a stand alone, so if you decide to not continue with the series you'll still have read a complete story. As for Blindness, my main problem was Saramago's writing...I like his ideas, I really do. But his writing ruins it for me.

    Maree, that's what we're all here for :P

    Becky: I hope it does too!

    Kiirstin: This is definitely a PERFECT book to read if you want to ease yourself into sci-fi.

  9. this does sound very good, great review. that first line got my attention right away :)
    I know what you mean about series books, I get weary of reading them too sometimes. But its always great when you find a series you really enjoy and want to read the rest of.

    I love that last quote.

  10. That last quote surely leave with an impact! And the first line is good too!

    Glad you enjoyed this book, Nymeth! As usual, thanks for the lovely review! :)

  11. It sounds like an interesting story! If they're that old then they probably die in the book so I'll have to avoid this (I can't stand to read or see movies about the elderly being hurt, it makes me cry).

  12. I just got this out of the library due to Chris's recommendation, so I'll come back and give you my comments when I've read it - I'm reading Castle Waiting first :-D

    and I just posted on the first chapter of YLB, I'm so sorry I'm late, and I'm doing ch 2 tomorrow then I'll be caught up. http://susanflynn.blogspot.com/2009/02/yellow-lighted-bookshop-chapter-1.html forgive me? I don't know what happened last week, I would sit down for a minute and wake up hours later. I got rested! but not much else done until the weekend!

  13. Naida: Isn't it a great opening line? And yes, it is great :)

    Melody, thank YOU for the lovely comment - as usual :)

    Ladytink: I cannot possibly answer you without spoilers :P But I'll say that the book has sad moments, but it's not all sad.

    Susan: I hope you love them both :D And I think you will. And no worries - you're more than forgiven!

  14. wow, sounds interesting... onto the list it goes. sigh.
    I liked the first quote you included, about meaning something to people and needing people. So true!

  15. Hmm... "military" and "sci-fi" are two words that don't exactly set off my Must-Have-It alarm, but I have heard nothing but good things about John Scalzi's stuff, and this book in particular. Thanks for the review!

  16. I wouldn't naturally be attracted to this title, but you and Chris made me really curious about it:)

  17. I am still waiting for this book to come in for me at the library! I have been waiting it seems forever. I swear someone that blogs lives near me, because I will see a lot of reviews of a book and get interested in it and then guaranteed someone will check that book out right before me. And, of course, the books have hardly been checked out before, and then there is a waiting list... Okay, my point was I want to read this book... :)

  18. I have this and other Scalzi books in my pile. I took it out after Carl reviewed it and made a point of reading other Scalzi books out there. Ooh, I'm now anticipating my turn inside Scalzi's world (but not that soon apparently. Lots of backlogs, law books to prioritize and then there's this slump, hahaha).

  19. Interesting to learn that you have a difficult time visualizing sci-fi worlds but not fantasy. I've never really thought about it before--although I don't know if I've read enough fantasy to make a fair assumption. Sometimes the problem I have with science fiction worlds/futures is that everthing can be so unfamiliar. I remember having that problem with Left Hand of Darkness.

  20. I concur with the others. Thanks for the review!

  21. Joanna: I think so too :)

    Fyrefly: Same here, actually. But I think you'll like this!

    Valentina: I probably wouldn't have decided to read it either if it hadn't been for Chris, Renay, etc. But I'm very glad I did!

    Kailana: lol! That would be funny if another blogger used your library system. I hope you get to read it soon!

    Bart: Thanks again :D

    Lightheaded: Enjoy your adventures in Scalziland :D

    Trish: I really don't know why it happens, but it does. I have no trouble whatsoever with sci-fi tv series or movies. But with books I sometimes do. Maybe it helps that they're more unfamiliar, like you said.

    Alice, you're welcome!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.