What it’s about: In a universe filled with hostile alien civilisations, the Machiavellian Colonial Union turns to Earth’s elderly masses as a source of fresh conscripts, promising to restore their youth and vitality in return for fighting their wars. Septuagenarian John Perry joins up and goes through a whirlwind of space adventures in which he kills alien baddies and gets the girl.
- This is the first in a long line of Old Man’s War books, and is best understood as such. This is a book that treads the fine line between science-fiction jingoism and an introspection on great power politics writ large across vast interstellar distances, but the ramifications of the Colonial Union’s brutally realist stance towards foreign policy will be borne out in full in later novels.
- That said, it feels very old fashioned in a way – a power fantasy whose protagonist is an old man who’s only ever known existence on a tiny blue world, suddenly thrust into the great unknown. He meets new friends and allies, gets shouted at by a drill sergeant who comes to grudgingly respect him, shoots aliens, does the whole heroic shtick, and finds love at the end of it.
- There’s the whole sensawunder thing going on here , as Perry discovers that humanity in space has mastered far more advanced technology than they let on to their Earth cousins. Much of the book is powered by a sense of discovery over the imaginative strangeness of the universe and humankind’s precarious place in it.
- That said, the best thing about Old Man’s War is how it so gleefully acknowledges its own cliched premises while playing them straight. It adds freshness and a dash of wry self-referential humour in what is also just a fast paced and enjoyable read. Someone on the Internet put it quite nicely – Scalzi’s best books tend to feature intelligent characters that face an uncaring universe with humour, brio, and derring-do.
Verdict: This is one of the classics of the genre; a taut, rollicking thriller chock full of the signature Scalzi humor and panache. A easy but obligatory read for any science fiction fan.
I give this book: 4 out of 5 ritual battles