War, waged by an army of old people
- Full title: Old man's war
- Author: John Scalzi
- Year: 2005
- ISBN-13: 9780765309402
- Amazon rating at the moment of writing this review: 4.4 out of 5 (1,325 reviews)
Old man's war is a science fiction novel following the life of John Perry after his 75th birthday, set in a somewhat distant future where mankind has started colonization of other planets and wages war against other species for them.
The book is the first of a series, the other ones being, in order, The Ghost Brigades (2006), The Last Colony (2007), Zoe's Tale (2008), The Human Division (2013) and The End of all things (scheduled for 2015).
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We get to meet John Perry, a regular American, on his 75th birthday. On that day, according to his own recollection, he did two things: visit his wife's grave and enlist in the Army.
This Army, however is not of the usual kind. Its actual name is the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF), which is in charge of waging war with other intelligent species for habitable planets. The usual procedure for enlisting to the CDF entails signing up for it on your 65th birthday and then submitting yourself for it ten years later.
Rumor is, the CDF has found some way of reversing aging. Otherwise, how are they waging war with old men and women? However, the actual procedures of the CDF are a mystery to the public at large and the only way to figure them out is to sign up with them.
John Perry decides that life has nothing left for him on Earth and willingly submits himself to the CDF. The papers tell him that, in order to be a CDF recruit, he must be declared legally dead on Earth, with all its legal implications; he must abandon any and all religious or spiritual ideologies that could restrain him from taking part in acts of violence and he will even submit his body and accept anything and everything the CDF might want to do with it.
Perry gets on the vessel that will take him and all the recruits to their initial training and quickly makes some friends. The following days are filled with strange tests, from extremely simple arithmetic to assessment of anger triggers. Then, on the last day of tests, Perry finds an almost exact replica of his body lying in the bed next to his. The adventure begins here...
What do you think, Andy?
John Scalzi has a really great idea here. The book has the familiarity of war stories, following in the footsteps of a single soldier, while discovering almost literally the universe at large, an unknown for everyone including our characters. He manages to be funny and exciting when the plot calls for it, without falling too much into any one of the usual "comedy"or "war story" clichés.
The book does make a few… interesting jumps between chapters. Although this might strike odd at first, in hindsight they are necessary to tell the tale of Perry without extending the book unnecesarily. An incidental effect of these jumps is that almost every secondary character is thinner than I like and their individual effects on the overall story are very localized but hardly impacting in the plot as a whole.
Maybe this was made intentionally to focus on the tale of a Lone Soldier? I prefer to think so, although the trope could've been established better as someone who really grieves for loss.
Overall, it's a well written story, an interesting concept and a good ending, although it's not among my favorites in science fiction.