Books · reviews

Book review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Since finishing Attachments I’ve been on a bit of a sci-fi reading binge. I read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi for the first time, followed by Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and then How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. And now I’m in the process of reading Ancillary Sword, so be prepared for a whole MONTH of science fiction reviews. Wahoo!

We start off a whole month of scifi book reviews with…

oldmanswarOld Man’s War
By John Scalzi

Published by Tor in 2005.

I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to start following John Scalzi on Twitter not long ago, but I did, despite the fact that I’d never read any of his books. And after I started following him, I saw promotions for his new book, Lock In, and thought to myself “why haven’t I read anything by him yet?” and THEN, because I’m cheap and hate reading hardcovers on my commute, I decided to pick up Old Man’s War at my local bookstore (along with a copy of Ancillary Justice).

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger. (Goodreads)

I enjoyed Old Man’s War a lot, and thought it was a fun book for a lot of reasons.  Here’s what I liked most about the book:

  • Space! Aliens! Planets! By far my favorite aspect of the book was all of the strange alien species that John Scalzi thought up. The universe is vast place, and in Old Man’s War Scalzi has dreamed up a menagerie of aliens to populate it, each unique in their own way, with their own histories and belief systems. It’s really quite amazing how many different species Scalzi managed to introduce us to in such a short amount of time. In many ways, I never wanted his tour of alien civilizations to end.
  • The humor. There are some pieces of dialogue in the book (my favorite conversation is between our hero John Perry and Master Sergeant Antonio Ruiz) that will have you chuckling. There is also some subtle and/or dark humor to the books (how do you defeat a race of aliens who are 1 inch tall?) that will have you smiling, but also really get you thinking about the morality of some of Perry’s actions. I quite enjoyed the fact that Scalzi was able to balance the darkness with the light without making the book come off as ridiculous.
  • The characters. I grew to love Perry in all of his flaws (though there appeared to be few of them), as well as his supporting characters. However, I thought some of the characters were given too little page time, and would definitely have liked them to be featured more than they were. Most of them were a joy to read about, and Scalzi skillfully managed to give each of his characters a unique personality, though many of them only had a few pages to their name. The fact that I just wanted to hear more is a testament to how much Scalzi can make you feel for a character in so short an amount of time.

Things I didn’t like as much:

  • The third part of the book. Please don’t get me wrong—I didn’t hate the third part of the book. I didn’t even strongly dislike it; it just wasn’t my favorite. Without giving much away, I thought that the parts with Jane Sagan were the weakest parts of the book. I understand that it was necessary to introduce Sagan in order to introduce the Ghost Brigades, but I felt like the awkward emotional scenes just took the book down a different angle than I was expecting. As I said, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my favorite. (My thoughts on this part are really hard to explain without giving away a major part of the book.)
  • The sequel is about the Ghost Brigades (and not, as far as I know, about John Perry). I know this is cheating. I haven’t read the sequel yet (it’s on my list now), but I’m disappointed to see that it will be about the Ghost Brigades (my aforementioned least favorite part of Old Man’s War) and not about Perry. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. And also, someone else please reassure me that The Ghost Brigades is going to be just as good as Old Man’s War.

Final thoughts:
First, I apologize for this review being all over the place. Second, you should read Old Man’s War if you are looking for a science fiction book that takes place in space and has a lot of aliens and war and interesting planets. It was a lot of fun, had touches of humor, some interesting tech, and manages to  raise some questions about the nature of war. A highly enjoyable read.


After thoughts:

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Another reason to check out the book now: SyFy has optioned Old Man’s War for a TV show


One thought on “Book review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

  1. I don’t remember anything about this book except that I loved it. I love Scalzi’s writing and his sense of humour. I’ve been disappointed by a couple of his books, but Old Man’s War and The Android’s Dream are my favs.

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