If my blogging has seemed a bit light and/or incoherent this week, it is entirely the fault of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I lay down Monday night with the intention of reading to the end of a chapter and then falling asleep, only to wind up staying up far into the night and reading the book the rest of the way through.
A quick synopsis: In the not-too-too-distant future, humanity has overpopulated Earth and set forth to colonize other planets as a result. In order to help coordinate and defend the colonies from the various and sundry nasty alien races that also happen to populate the universe, humanity establishes the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). Earth itself is now a bit of a backwater, purposefully kept in the dark as to what exactly is going on in the rest of the ‘Verse. No Colonial ever sets foot on Earth and little hard news makes its way back from the colonies. However, it’s a well-known fact that the CDF is always on the lookout for good soliders, with a twist: anyone turning 65 is able to go to the closest CDF recruitment office, sign up for duty and then wait for a period of 10 years before being called into service on their 75th birthday. Rumors abound as to why the CDF only recruits the old but most assume that, through some form of genetic therapy or surgery, the old and infirm can be made into fighting machines.
The book is written from the perspective of one John Perry who introduces his story thusly: “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” The story takes off from there.
I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed this book greatly. It had been repeatedly recommended by Glenn Reynolds and that, combined with my experience reading Scalzi’s (free!) online book Agent to the Stars convinced me that OMW would be worth picking up.
Scalzi’s prose is light, conversational and easy to read. His characters are all almost immediately likable and accessible, making it easy to get into his writing style and he almost never spirals off into unnecessarily lengthy descriptions, instead using his words to paint only the faintest outlines of a scene, letting his dialogue and his readers’ imaginations fill in the rest. The story itself clips along at a brisk pace, introducing characters (and subsequently killing many of them off) in rapid-fire succession. He imagines a compelling set of technologies, both civilian and military in use, that are extremely plausible extensions of tech that we either posess at the current time or are just around the corner, meaning that relating to the technology described is quite easy and almost akin to reading a current issue of Popular Science. The language is befitting a military setting; in other words, it’s fairly coarse. If your stomach is easily turned by a goodly bit of old-fashioned cussing in a new-fangled setting, you may want to avoid OMW.
If there is one downfall to Old Man’s War, it is one that it shares with Agent to the Stars: the denoument seems a tad rushed and all too brief. I do not know if it is endemic to Scalzi’s writing style (I will have to give his upcoming Ghost Brigades [*cough* *cough* it’s on my Amazon Wish List, should anyone be so inclined…] a read to see if this is indeed the case), but he seems to spend a lot of time setting up the last few scenes of his book, only to have them come to a thunderingly quick conclusion.
Those of my readers that consider themselves fans of good science fiction would do themselves well to pick up a copy of Old Man’s War. Me? I’ve got to catch up on my sleep in preparation for Ghost Brigades…