Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi(Cover picture courtesy of 52 Books 52.)

John Perry did two things on his seventy-fifth birthday.  First he visited his wife’s grave.  Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it to the stars.  The bad news is that, out there, planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common.  So, we fight.  Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater.  The bulk of our resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Forces, and everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join up.  The CDF doesn’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living.  You’ll be taken off Earth, never to return.  You’ll serve two years in combat.  And if you survive, you’ll be given a homestead of your own, on one of our hard-won planets.

John Perry is taking that deal.  He thinks he knows what to expect.  But the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.

I enjoyed Old Man’s War.  Not in the snobby critic “it was an intelligent read with many messages too complicated for you common folk” way.  I mean it was thoroughly entertaining: I laughed so hard I cried for a whole minute, read passages aloud to the people around me and read it in one sitting (that’s 3 hours of reading), not even pausing for dinner.  Now that, my friends, is the mark of a good book.

Just as a bit of background information, I knew Old Man’s War would be funny yet have deeper messages.  I’d been following John Scalzi’s blog Whatever for about three years until I actually picked up one of his books, so I was familiar with his writing style.  But that didn’t prepare me in the slightest for his debut novel.  It’s science fiction with actual science in it, but it’s explained so well that even someone like me that does not have a strong background in science can understand things perfectly.

This is what science fiction is really about.  John Scalzi takes us on a fantastic journey to other worlds, dazzles us with the technology of a possible future, puts us in the skin of an interesting character and, best of all, gives us important questions to ponder while making us laugh.  Unlike in a lot of sci-fi, things are not in black and white.  We don’t know who the good guys and bad guys are because both sides commit unspeakable atrocities, which is the reality of war.  We never really answer the question of who is good and who is bad; it’s left up to the reader to pass judgment, which suits me just fine.

John Perry really is an intriguing character.  Since the book is in first person, we get to know him intimately but we never tire of him.  He’s well fleshed-out and has a believable background, but also changes as he fights for the CDF.  I don’t want to go into too much detail or I’ll spoil things, but John does end up in some pretty tough ethical dilemmas, especially when it comes to the mysterious Ghost Brigades.

Plot twists, science fiction with real science, fantastic settings, realistic characters…you can’t ask for anything else.  And that’s why Old Man’s War got the honour of being the book I chose for my 250th review.  I absolutely love it and would recommend it to anyone!  Seriously, you need to read this book.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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  1. Caleb Flanagan

    I absolutely love this book, love Scalzi’s blog, and cannot wait to read the other stuff set in the OMW universe. He has a serial novel being released sometime in the next month or so to continue the story beyond what the three following books already do. You should try out Redshirts now that you’ve finally jumped into Scalzi.

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