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Book Review: Old Man’s War

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined Ender’s Game with Starship Troopers, then tried to add in a little bit of romance? No? Well, if you read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, that’s pretty much what you’re going to get whether you wondered about it or not.

Not that this is a bad thing, exactly.

In Ender’s Game, kids are taking at a remarkably young age to go off and fight space battles. Old Man’s War is the opposite: At age seventy-five, citizens of Earth (well, the part of Earth that didn’t lose a war that’s never named, but that I imagine was akin to World War III) are given the option to sign up with the Colonial Defense Forces. The CDF’s job is to protect the colonists (from the parts of the word where the Earth is so messed up that it can’t sustain the population it produces [see: India]) from various alien threats.

As a part of enlisting, citizens give up a few things:

  1. They can never go back to Earth
  2. They can’t communicate with anyone on Earth (though they’re technically allowed, it’s functionally impossible).
  3. They are no longer citizens of Earth and for all intents and purposes are legally dead on Earth.

You might be asking yourself, “But why would anyone choose to give up their life on Earth?” Quite simply, the answer lies in two points: you cannot enlist until you are seventy-five-years-old and the CDF will make you young again. No one really knows how the CDF will make them young again, but enough seventy-five years old are tempted by the offer that the CDF is never lacking for new recruits.

Old Man’s War follows the military career of John Perry, a writer who decides to join the ranks of the CDF because his wife and he had made that decision years ago, even though she died six years earlier. After going through the sign up routine, he’s sent into space, made young again (no, I’m not going to tell you how), trained, then we move into the Starship Troopers portion of the novel.

When I say the book turns into Starship Troopers, I don’t mean the gritty moralistic novel, but that ridiculous movie from 1997 that I am still convinced was made by someone who had never actually read the Heinlein book. Perry and his friends fight the ritualistic Consu, the singing Whaid, the one-inch-tall Gindalians, and the somewhat less technologically advanced Rraey. Oh, and there’s some sort of sentient slime thrown in there, too. The humans kill all of these alien species with the same gusto that Rico spent killing the Bugs–diplomacy isn’t an option, only splatter.

Interspersed throughout basic training and basic killing is the fact that Perry misses his wife. A lot. Probably more than any man has ever missed a woman. So when he sees her on the planet Coral after a pretty decisive defeat by the Rraey, he at first thinks he might be hallucinating, but then finds out that while it’s not technically his wife, it is mostly her DNA. It’s at this point in the novel where I threw my hands in the air and thought, “I knew that was coming, and here it is. If they don’t go skipping off into the sunset, I’ll eat my hat.”

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple because, as I found out shortly thereafter, this is the first book in a series which I did not know going into the whole mess, so now if I want to find out what happens to Perry and his wife-who-isn’t-his wife, I’m going to have to wait until both their terms of service are up.

Scalzi, John. Old Man’s War. New York, NY: Tor, 2005. eBook. ISBN: 0765309408

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