Old Man's War John Scalzi

Feb 2, 2015 review (read between Jan 31, 2015 – Jan 31, 2015)

1st reading read review on Goodreads

Any half-decent military science-fiction novel is bound to draw comparisons to the titans of the genre, Starship Troopers and The Forever War. In the case of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, it practically begs for the comparisons while not treading a lot of new ground. That said, it’s still a fun little space opera that easily lends itself to a few hours of enjoyment.

Like in Starship Troopers and The Forever War, the narrative follows one character’s point of view. In the Old Man’s War’s case it is John Perry, who decides to join the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) at the ripe age of 75. Yes, the main character is a 75-year-old geriatric, and the title has ‘Old Man’ in it, but all of that is really misleading to say the least. My interest was initially piqued by the idea of a space-faring military composed of 75-year-old volunteers: what could they offer that younger people couldn’t? Knowledge? Wisdom? How is 75 years worth of experience on Earth relevant to fighting aliens on a different planet in a different solar system?

All of this is conveniently done away with because the CDF has the technology to create the body of a younger and improved version of these volunteers. Synthetic blood, skin with chlorophyll in them for energy production (green humans), enhanced senses, and neural implants. On top of it all, the CDF also has the ability to move the conscience of the volunteer from the old body into the new. Incredibly convenient.

So you have a bunch of these 75-year-olds, except now they’re in these modified, practically alien bodies. So they must have recruited these people for their knowledge and wisdom, right? Maybe, but it seems like the Earth-based experiences are more of a hindrance than anything else, as the CDF boot camp trainers are so eager to point out. And at that point, why does the CDF even bother recruiting and training these people? I honestly don’t know. To add to the confusion, the CDF’s Special Forces are introduced later in the book. They are composed of test tube soldiers: completely new/manufactured consciences loaded into already-mature bodies that are even more modified than the typical CDF soldier’s. Knowing nothing but combat from the moment they are ‘born,’ they are superior in practically all forms of combat. Again, why bother with the 75-year-olds?

Whatever. Despite several baffling story elements like this, there’s still enjoyment to be had. The fighting scenes have energy and tension, there are interesting characters with their wildly unique fates, and interesting aliens and worlds to be explored. Perry’s path through the CDF ranks and his exploits are also fun to read about. There’s a good amount of wry wit in the narration to keep things entertaining and plenty of energy moving the story forward. There are even touching interpersonal relationships that bloom!

Basically, don’t read Old Man’s War thinking (or hoping) that it’s going to deeply explore the concept and philosophy of warfare and military culture in space against alien races. It has both, but they’re more fun than insightful. Consider it as a fun, well-written space opera, try not to compare it to Heinlein and Haldeman’s masterpieces, and it’ll be enjoyable enough.