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?
“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.”
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Devourer of Books
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.)