Sunday, August 12, 2018

Old Man’s War

John Scalzi
Completed 8/11/2018, Reviewed 8/12/2018
4 stars

I’m coming to realize I really like John Scalzi’s writing.  He creates interesting universes and produces space opera that’s easy to read, something I don’t find too often in this sub-genre.  And he makes you think.  This book is about an army made up of people seventy-five years old and older put into younger clones of themselves and sent off to space to protect Earth’s interplanetary colonies.  It asks the question would you go to war to be young again and see space.  I really liked the book and will probably read the rest of the series eventually. 

The story follows John Perry, a man who on his seventy-fifth birthday goes to visit his wife’s grave and then joins the army.  He made his peace with his son and the rest of his friends and family.  Then he goes to space and gets a new body, his younger self, with enhancements like green coloring to allow for the absorption of sunlight to produce food like a plant, a brain implant to communicate telepathically, and synthetic blood for faster clotting and provide more oxygen to the enhanced body.  He goes on several missions, but on one mission where he’s nearly killed, he’s rescued by special ops, which includes a woman who appears to be his long dead wife.

The plot of the story is sort of “Ender’s Game” in reverse.  Instead of children going off to war, it’s senior citizens.  I don’t usually care for either space opera or military SF, but this was kind of both and I enjoyed it.  The characters were well drawn, particularly John Perry, as the book is told in first person by him, but I also liked the group of seniors he meets at the start of his basic training.  They’re all interesting people and it’s fun to watch them after they get their new bodies.  Unfortunately, most of them separate although two pairs get assigned to the same squads.  It was also cool that one of the characters was gay, because it was a total non-issue.

The alien life is interesting too.  It seems that if they can travel in space, they are looking to create colonies on uninhabited planets, just like us.  That’s where the conflict comes in.  Just like us, they want to protect their colonies and take over colonies inhabited by other aliens, or us.  There are two sets of aliens with whom we get some in depth study.  But the book is rather short, and we don’t spend that much time with them.  I expect that there are more and deeper plotlines for the aliens in the later books. 

I give this book four out of five stars.  It’s sharp, witty, and serious at the same time.  I’ve read that it’s a take on Robert Heinlein, and Scalzi even thanks Heinlein in the acknowledgements.  It makes one pause and think of Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” but this book is a lot less right wing.  While the aliens are still the bad guys, there’s a moment of moral dissonance during a battle where John Perry is stepping on one-inch tall aliens and slowly having a nervous breakdown.  It’s well done and adds a level of moral ambiguity that I thought was missing in “Starship Troopers”. 

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