EPS Review #163 - Old Man's War

Old Man's War, by John Scalzi, Tor, 2005, 314pp.

A good recommendation from my friend Mitch. It's mainstream Science Fiction, where the twist is that after living a full life on earth, and only then, everyone has the option to get a new body and go fight a galactic war in it. If they survive eight years, they get to settle down in a new colony.

People compare Scalzi to Heinlein, and this book to Starship Troopers. This is not necessarily a good thing, since I read Heinlein when I was young (notably Stranger in a Strange Land) but quickly had enough of his too-perfect characters. I thought the Starship movie was juvenile: killing big bad bugs. Scalzi's earthlings are also killing big bad bugs, but he skirts triviality by making it clear that the bugs die almost willingly, despite superior technology, and have a mysterious redemption agenda that will no doubt figure in later books.

All the oldies in a given batch get chlorophyll-green new bodies with extra abilities, and then immediately have lots of sex, of course. The issue of moving vs. copying consciousness is glossed over. It is also not clear why the military does not just clone a few perfect soldiers instead of everyone. The protagonist John Perry spends a lot of time thinking about his wife of 40 years, who died too soon to emigrate. [ Spoiler ] It turns out that she remains the love interest in this book, which is kind of sweet.

The war is fairly gripping, and the writing is more witty than not, so I will read more in the series. The book is not as imaginative as Vinge (and nowhere near so as Rucker) or as dramatic as Banks, but still worth a read.

Tom wrote: The trailer for [ Starship Troopers ] looked so stupid I could not bring myself to try the film. I often wonder why there are so few good science fiction films. The best I've seen in recent years was I, Robot.

Paul wrote: Hi. I was never into SF very much. Reading your review prompts me to ask which author you think is the best in that genre, and what book you think every educated Harvard man should read (now that he is retired).

I replied: Some guys in my book club have asked similar questions. But it is like asking what is the best mystery story: there are some good ones, sure, but it is not a genre full of "great books". If you do not enjoy reading a trashy SF novel, then you probably will not enjoy reading the best ones, either. You need to like techie ideas and space-ships and alien beings and alternate universes. Still, you might try Dune. Or Ubik.