Sci-fi Book Reviews: Old Man’s War

22 Sep

So, blatantly stealing from Library Scenester, I thought I’d write reviews of a couple of books I’ve recently read: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games. I confess I wasn’t really into “hard” sci-fi in my youth, preferring fantasy and the kind of sci-fi in which people fought with swords or knives. And, to be honest, I’m not sure where these books rank on the odd consistency scale that speculative fiction fans seem to construct about genre works… but they’re not space opera, that’s for sure.

So, let’s begin…

 Old Man’s War starts out better than any book I’ve read in a while:

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.”

The book is the story of John Perry, who leaves the Earth he’s known for 75 years to join the Colonial Defense Forces. An embargo on travel and information between Earth and its purported colonies leaves just about everyone in the planet completely in the dark about what’s happening in the rest of the galaxy, but John and his fellow senior recruits know two things: the Colonials have technology that’s demonstrably beyond the wildest dreams of native Earthers, and enlistment promises some sort of rejuvenation program above and beyond anything found at home.

And all you have to do promise to serve for two to ten years, and never return to Earth. Which of course John does, otherwise the book would be short and far less noteworthy.

The universe put forth in the novel is both refreshingly humanistic and remarkably optimistic. While the genre trope of fighting for your species’ survival is alive and well between these covers, the advantages humanity brings to the table are presented effectively. And while there are numerous occasions when the CDF could sell the species’ soul for its survival — and arguably a few when they do — the picture of future humanity tends to be a society that tries to do right by its own, even as it fights to exist.

Refreshing, that.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. Cory Doctorow called it, Starship Troopers without the lectures… Forever War with better sex.” Having read both those works recently, I’d have to agree. But Old Man’s War also stakes out its own territory in the realm of works that chronicle humanity finding its’ place in an often-hostile universe.

Come back later this week for another review! (Or, y’know, read it in your RSS reader.)

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