In 2005, John Scalzi released his science fiction debut, Old Man’s War, to much critical and commercial acclaim. Now, Scalzi is one of the most beloved authors in the science fiction community.
When John Perry turned seventy-five, he decided to take to the stars and enlist with the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). Rumor has it that the CDF is able to give Perry a new life, a life free from his aging body and memories of his dead wife. Of course, life in the CDF will not be easy since many alien species want to destroy humanity. And so begins a space opera full of humor, sorrow, and all of the other intriguing facets of humanity.
A moving introduction
Let me begin by saying that the first part of Old Man’s War is some of the best science fiction I have ever read. First, the characters are exquisite and believably human. I think that most science fiction misses that the people who participate in these intergalactic wars are still human and not some motley crew of princes and warlords. Complementing the wonderful cast of characters is the beautifully-spun space setting.
Since Old Man’s War is a space opera, the technology is fairly understandable because the focus is on the characters and the results of war. However, there are quite a few bits of tech that fetch attention, such as the space elevator. The technology is not enjoyable because of its complexity; it is enjoyable because of the clever ways the characters employ them.
Scalzi makes his mark on the science fiction realm with his infectious humor. There were multiple times when I was up late into the night eagerly awaiting Scalzi’s dollops of comedy, and what impressed me the most about it was how varied it is, ranging from giggle-inducing sexual innuendos to clever barbs pointed at the military establishment.
Not pulling their weight
Not everything is quite so rosy in the latter half of the novel, however, and a slew of problems spring up like weeds in an otherwise beautiful garden. The main issue is that Perry begins to catch too many lucky breaks, and meets too many of the right people that stretches my personal sensibilities. Also, most of the characters become interchangeable and difficult to care about. I found the latter issue to be most bothersome because of how brilliantly wrought the characters were in the initial half of the book. This is not to say that the latter half is not enjoyable, as it does have a few compelling set pieces, plot twists, and surprising revelations, but they are not enough to completely salvage the tale.
Why should you read this book?
Old Man’s War is an amalgamation of what makes science fiction novels such delights to read: thought-provoking ideas, interesting technology, and infectious bits of comedy. Although the journey through Old Man’s War comes with its share of bumps and bruises, it is well worth the price of admission.