Review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Well now I finally understand the massive lines for John Scalzi’s autograph at Aussiecon 4.  I must say that I am a latecomer when it comes to his books.  Before Aussiecon 4 I hadn’t heard much about Scalzi’s books although I had heard his name in passing.  I am not a great reader of Science Fiction per se, preferring the sweeping epics of fantasy or the torrid paranormal romances that are taking over the shelves at the moment.

After starting this blog I started reading a lot of other blogs about reviewing books.  It came to my attention that the majority of these blogs rated Old Man’s War in their Top 10 books.  That grabbed my interest as most of these people had very different tastes.  Another reason it grabbed my attention was that someone mentioned it had been optioned as a movie so I wanted to read it before someone could ruin it by making a movie out of it.

So while browsing my local library I saw a copy on the shelf and immediately grabbed it.  Instead of getting several books at a time like I normally do, I limited myself to just this book so I could have no reason to delay reading it.  (Sometimes I do that, I don’t know why but I often really want to read a book but delay reading it so long I have to take it back to the library because someone else has booked it.  Mine is not to reason why)

I had guests staying with me this week (my parents so you have to be a good host) so my usual reading speeds were well down.  It took me 5 days to finish this book.  If I hadn’t had guests this weekend I think it would have been a single sitting.  I absolutely loved it!  It brought me faith that no matter how many books I read there will always be something good that I have missed.

The premise of the book is that in the future humans have colonised space and have come across innumerable alien species who also want the same planets that humans do.  Earth has been isolated from the rest of the known galaxy by the Colonial Defense Forces.  So the only humans who go into space are from the densely populated countries mostly in Asia.  Those others who want to go into space must go through the army.  There is no lack of volunteers for this army for the simple reason that recruits must be aged 75 and they know that somehow when they join they will be made young again.

The story is in first person from the point of view of John Perry.  It starts like this:

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.  I visited my wife’s grave.  Then I joined the army.”

We follow John’s adventures as he discovers new friends, goes to exotic locales, meets new aliens, and kills them.  John’s experiences throughout his life and his wry outlook on life help him through some very tough moments.

Scalzi’s style throughout this book is quite gentle considering the subject matter.  In one scene, John is experiencing a crisis while fighting another alien species all of one inch tall.  He breaks down after being told to stomp the little aliens to death.  You are so absorbed with John’s suffering you don’t really comprehend that they are basically going Godzilla on these aliens.  Until John points it out.  And then you feel a bit queasy, like he does.

This tale gently moves from his friendships forming, to being in battle, to a final twist which brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.  While it isn’t particularly fast moving at times, that didn’t bother me much as the writing was excellent and the simple interactions between characters was interesting and pertinent to the story.

I recommend this novel for both lovers of pure sf and also those who are interested in stories that favour characterisation.  I am glad I have come to this late as I noticed there are a couple of sequels already published.  I am looking forward to them very much.

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