few weeks back, I was participating in an online discussion about which science fiction novel the poster should read next, and at least half of the other folks in the discussion recommended Old Man’s War. I had the book stashed away in my office someplace, and the recommendations prompted me to move the book up in my reading list. The biggest hurdle at that point was finding the book in my office, but I digress.
Old Man’s War is a book that can be summed up pretty well just by the title. On Earth, people who turn 75 have the choice of joining the Colonial Defense Force, which is basically the interstellar Army. They go into it knowing very little about what will be expected of them, or what they will face, but they do know that by signing up, they will have their bodies rejuvenated. How? It’s never explained before the troops sign up, but for most people at that age, the carrot of youth is enough to get them to sign on to fight the war. John Perry, the main character, has lost his wife and no longer has anything holding him to his home planet, so he signs up almost without hesitation.
The story is broken down into particular parts — signing up, getting rejuvenated, fighting the battles, moving up through the chain of command — and looking back on it, it’s hard to say if the book has a particular plot. There’s definitely an overarching theme of humanity during warfare, but the story is really just a military science fiction one, where the character is taken from one battle to the next. Near the start of the novel, he meets a handful of other recruits and bonds with them, and a recurring plot point is John updating us on what’s happening to his friends, but otherwise the book is all about his battles. This isn’t necessarily bad — at the very least, it has no effect on making the book any less compelling or readable — but it was a bit of a surprise.
Now, Scalzi has received a lot of comparisons to Robert Heinlein, and I’ll admit that I’m not all that familiar with Heinlein’s work. I think I’ve read three of his novels (Starship Troopers, The Puppet Masters, and Stranger in a Strange Land), but I understand that a lot of Heinlein’s early works were military science fiction adventures, which are comparable to Scalzi’s works. After reading Old Man’s War, though, and wanting to read more of Scalzi’s work, I may also have to track down some of Heinlein’s earlier works to see how they compare.
So, if you haven’t already, you should really treat yourself to this novel. I’m having a hard time coming up with a single reason not to, so just go out and read it, already!