Saturday, March 20, 2010

53. Old Man's War by John Scalzi

I think part of the reason that my dad has taken such an interest in this reading project of mine is that I'm finally giving science fiction and fantasy novels a chance. He and my sister Annie have given me great recommendations and we've been able to talk about the sci fi and fantasy books that I have read and might read at great length. It's been fun. Old Man's War was one of my dad's suggestions, and I've had his copy of it for at least a couple of months now. (It looks good on my coffee table.)

I was pretty much hooked just by reading the back cover:

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 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 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 Forces. What's known to everybody is 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 the 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. 

Intriguing, right? 

I really, really liked this one. We're completely immersed in this fully realized world from the first paragraph. John Perry is a great protagonist; he's smart, practical, with a good sense of humor. He explains his simple reasons for embarking on the journey into the CDF so well that I started to wonder how old the author was -- aging and the effects and consequences thereof play such a large role in Perry's motivations and are expressed so eloquently that it seemed like it must have been written by someone close to John's age (75 years old). I was surprised, and impressed, upon learning that John Scalzi was only 35 when the book was published in 2005. Wow.

We experience the transition and orientation to the CDF along with John, and it's really interesting. It takes a long time to get to the more action-packed sequences, but that's how I prefer it. I would much rather read about the people that John encounters and their reactions to this strange new world they find themselves in. Early on, John makes friends with a group of fellow recruits who promptly dub themselves the Old Farts. My favorite line in the whole book is the opening sentence of Chapter 10: 

Maggie was the first of the Old Farts to die. 

Sorry for the spoiler, but isn't that funny? No? Guess you have to be named Maggie to get the same kick out of it. 

Once I got to the section of the book with more action, I wasn't any less involved. I was so invested in this story and these characters that I had a very easy time reading and following the action. It was also cool to see how naturally John developed into not only a good soldier, but a great leader. Seventy-five years' worth of experience and knowledge from his life on Earth couldn't have fully prepared John for his new role, but definitely laid the ground work and helped him build skills that he could tap into for his new responsibilities. I don't want to give away too much about where the story leads John, but it is good. I promise. 

If you try this book, I think you'll have a very hard time putting it down and it will stay with you for a few days, in such a good way. I can't say enough good things about it. Go check it out!

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