Old Man’s War: In this universe, experience counts.

science fiction book reviews John Scalzi Old Man's War 1. Old Man's WarSFF book reviews John Scalzi Old Man's WarOld Man’s War by John Scalzi

In this universe, experience counts.

John Perry is 75 years old, his wife is dead, and he has nothing left to live for. It’s a perfect time to join the army, and the Colonial Defense Force is recruiting. They need a lot of loyal human bodies to maintain the universe colonization project, so their preference is to recruit old people, rejuvenate their bodies (nobody on Earth knows exactly how this happens), and train them to fight for the human race. Most of them will be dead within a few years, but that’s all they were expecting on Earth anyway. The Colonial Defense Force gives them something valuable to do for humanity, and a chance for a new life.

Old Man’s War is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read this year. The premise — old people being rejuvenated — makes for an excellent twist on the usual alien-fighting theme. The elderly, as opposed to the usual young heroes we find in so many speculative fiction novels, have had a lifetime to accumulate knowledge, skills, wisdom, and experience. I found John Perry and his cohort to be mature heroes whom I could admire and enthusiastically cheer for. I cried for them, too, as they lost each other or ruminated on past loves. Perry’s explanation of why he missed being married was moving and reminded me of my graduate school days when I would have felt lonely and unsupported (and maybe quit) if it hadn’t been for my husband’s presence.

Scalzi’s villains, on the other hand — all those alien creatures — are absolutely horrifying! The humans usually have no idea what they’ll find on a new planet, which is why their mortality rate is so high. It could be an insectoid creature with razors for hands, or a jumping slime mold, or a virus… The diversity of alien life that Scalzi has created adds suspense and terror to his story.

Old Man’s War is not a comedy, but it’s often funny — very funny. I laughed hard and out loud many times. William Dufris, the narrator of the audiobook version I listened to, contributed to the humor by reading the funny parts in a perfect deadpan voice. Dufris was outstanding and I highly recommend Macmillan Audio’s version.

I will definitely be reading John Scalzi’s other books in this series. Old Man’s War was excellent.

~Kat Hooper

Military life in the future, fighting aliens over planets to colonize. The mysterious Colonial Defense Force recruits 75 year old men and women to fight its wars, and many sign up because some sort of second shot at youth is involved, and at this point in their lives they figure there’s nothing to lose. But exactly what are they getting themselves into? And how is the CDF going to turn all these old farts into fighting machines?

I was really proud of my deductive reasoning in figuring out that Old Man’s War was an homage to Robert Heinlein‘s Starship Troopers, but then I realized I’m like the umpteenth millionth person to figure that out, and anyway there it is, right in Scalzi’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. In any case, it’s a lot less didactic and preachy, and much easier to read, than Heinlein’s book (for me, anyway), if not as realistic about military life.

There were some philosophical questions about war that I was expecting Old Man’s War to grapple with in a more meaningful way, but the book kind of breezes past all of them, with just a nod to the question of “Why are we fighting all these aliens anyway?” Seriously, with all these alien races out there, are there no better ways to settle interstellar differences? I wish this had been addressed more deeply, and I’m not certain whether Scalzi just decided this isn’t that kind of book, or whether he saved these issues for the sequels. Maybe I’ll find out one of these times. Whatever the reason may be, if you hate war, this won’t be your kind of book.

So just understand that Old Man’s War is an action-packed, imaginative book with lots of violence, and have fun and roll with it. I started it one day, intending to read only a chapter or two, and ended up reading the whole thing, even though I had a shelf full of other books I meant to read first, which says something.

Old Man’s War is kind of a great action movie. Except a book. But all books can’t be War and Peace, and I think there will always be a place in my heart for the ones that are sheer fun and adrenaline. Kind of like how The Avengers is one of my favorite movies, even though it’s not terribly profound. “Puny god!”

~Tadiana Jones

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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  1. I recently downloaded this to my kindle and will tackle it shortly, I hope. It hasn’t moved up my pile very quickly, as I keep adding things to the top of the list (see “Mythago Wood and Moonheart, just to name two).

  2. Let me know how you like it, CTGT. I thought it was incredibly entertaining.

  3. I actually liked the beginning of this book much better than the rest.

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