At 75 years old, John Perry takes stock of his remaining life, with his wife dead and buried and a retirement of increasing dotage to look forward to he does the only sensible thing possible - he joins the army. Now known as the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) the war of the 22nd century is fought out in interstellar space, paving the way for human colonization of far flung planets and fending off a myriad of marauding aliens.
While this may seem a bit extreme for a pensioner the whole CDF recruitment campaign is directed towards these "old farts", promising to somehow restore their ageing bodies to youthful vitality. How they do this exactly remains a mystery, with earth itself segregated from intersteller interstellar and no CDF official ever setting foot on the planet.
I first found out about the author on twitter, many people have mentioned his name and he is given a great deal of respect in the science fiction community, as far reaching as people like Matt Cutts (head of webspam at Google) recommending his work. The very premise of Old Man's War was enough for me to buy a copy on Amazon and I have been itching to read it since. I wasn't disappointed and was actually pretty shocked to learn it was his debut novel, there is a real sense of maturity within the prose that I would have otherwise attributed to a great deal of experience.
If you imagine a more adult and modern interpretation of Enders Game but from the opposite age spectrum and in my opinion written in a more friendly and intelligent manner then you will begin to grasp what Scalzi has achieved here. Narrated in the first person, Old Man's War laughs in the face of most of the military scifi clichÃ©s and manages to explore it's intriguing premise in a remarkable manner. It also manages to be very accessible, avoiding any hard scifi edges or military terminology and any required explanations are provided in such an effortless way that should make sense to even the biggest techno-phobe.
Characterisation is handled brilliantly, with the protagonist assuming the role of unlikely hero in an intelligent and thoughtful manner, a quiet, unassuming leader with 75 years of experience to call on. I loved Master Sergeant Ruiz, the drill instructor straight from Full Metal Jacket, even down to the "This is my rifle..." chant but not only that but Scalzi even pre-empts any calls of stereotype by Ruiz calling out the fact that he is aware that he seems like a stereotype.
I have seen many reviewers on Amazon comparing the author to the late Heinlein, in particular his Starship Troopers work, and while there is a slightly similar voice - with both authors having a knack of explaining details in an easy reading manner - to me they are quite distinct. Starship Troopers shares a few similar themes too but the approach, the message and to large extent the story are very different indeed.
Old Man's War is a Captivating journey that explores the question of why humanity fights and what it fights for, humorous in places and incredibly engaging, Scalzi has convinced me that when I get to 75 I should join the CDF, now where do I sign up?
Written on Monday 27th June 2011 by Antony.
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