"review" · fiction · Lit · sci-fi/fantasy · series · wondermous

{book} old man’s war

When Carl V. (of Stainless Steel Droppings) highly recommends a book*, read it—you’ll be grateful. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is incredibly fun; a wonderfully rendered sci-fi adventure with a very sweet love story. I read very few space Sci-Fi stories (I watch exponentially more). I read even fewer novels where the protagonists are in their later years. If you have similar avoidances, overcome them for Old Man’s War. Yes, when I highly recommend a read, you might should seriously consider it, too.

  John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce — and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine — and what he will become is far stranger.~publisher’s comments (back cover)

Congratulations John Perry, you are now among my favorite characters of all time. Why? He is just flat-out charming. As our first person narrator, Perry deftly navigates the emotional, technical, political, and comedic. Dialog captures diverse perspectives—and diverse personalities—so the narrative doesn’t feel too narrow or skewed. For those who want to use 3rd person benefits in a 1st person narrative (ahem, Young Adult fiction) Scalzi examples a successful way of doing this.

The sense of humor had me drawing out the read and savoring it. Someone could easily devour the book in a long sitting as it is quick-paced and engrossing. If you’ve been in a slump or inundated with non-fiction assignments at school, Old Man’s War is a comfort food. The rest of the time it is dessert.

I love the imagination in the fiction, especially in its coupling with comedic timing. The planets and aliens are marvelous inventions. I couldn’t get enough of them. And Scalzi’s capture of earthly familiarity (in particular, the military)is amusing and horrifying in their perfection.

  It might have been because of the Covandu themselves who in many respects were clones of the human race itself: bipedal, mammalian, extraordinarily gifted in artistic matters, particularly poetry and drama, fast breeding and unusually aggressive when it come o the universe and their place in it. Humans and the Covandu frequently found themselves fighting for the same undeveloped real estate. Cova Banda, in fact, had been a human colony before it had been a Covandu one, abandoned after a native virus had caused the settlers to grow unsightly additional limbs and homicidal additional personalities. The virus didn’t give the Covandu even a headache; they moved right in. Sixty-three years later, the Colonials finally developed a vaccine and wanted the planet back. Unfortunately, the Covandu, again all too much like humans, weren’t very much into the whole sharing thing. So in we went, to do battle against the Covandu.

The Tallest of whom was no more than one inch tall. (186-7)**


Old Man’s War isn’t just a fluff read. It not only explores the concerns and benefits of age, but imperialism, sexism, sexuality, humanity, religious fervor… Perry is a sensitive observer, naturally flawed enough to be believable, he is personable and reflective. Important to me: he isn’t misogynistic or macho.  If anything he is cautious in his own opinions, except when it comes to his love of his late wife.

I was impressed with the transitions from earth to space, age to youth, base desires to intellectual discourse, death to resurrection and back round again; the explorations throughout and the interconnectedness of them all. They follow and encircle the progression of the story, of John Perry’s life. Placing interrogative conversations with regards to our greatest institutions in the venue of future and space allows us engage in criticism more freely. John Perry is affable.  His is witty and he is loyal, and he is old. He is a brilliant choice as narrator/guide.

Scalzi proves himself to be a talented writer, but more importantly—a gifted storyteller. His pacing, his timing, his balance of dialog, illustration, explanation, and action is remarkable. The novel is immersive. You don’t even think about it as a book one in a series until the last part of the book as it introduces a potential continuation. Even then, the book ends with thoughts of its beginning. Scalzi has whetted enough of an appetite for a series, but the novel is sensitive to the creation of its own entity. It has done what it has promised to do: to follow John Perry on this new adventure, to give him back his “youth,” to give him a new beginning, a fresh start—and to do all this without loss of memory or purpose.


recommendation: sci-fi and non-sci-fi reader, any sex, “big kids” (due to sexual content and language), fans of Heinlein.

of note: yes! finally one for The Sci-Fi Experience–deep sigh. check out the reviews site, here.


*Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings reviews and rereads Old Man’s War.

** I adore Scalzi’s use of “whom” to identify personhood over referencing an object. Note the criticism of the human in the quick matter-of-fact listing of attributes, and setting/explanation for the present situation. John Perry rarely uses confrontational tones.


Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Tor, 2005; tradepaper, 313 pages.

[borrowed from Library, should really own.]


  “Though a lot of SF writers are more or less efficiently continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein, Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master. […]  The story obviously resembles such novels as Starship Troopers and Time Enough for Love, but Scalzi is not just recycling classic Heinlein. He’s working out new twists, variations that startle even as they satisfy. The novel’s tone is right on target, too — sentimentality balanced by hardheaded calculation, know-it-all smugness moderated by innocent wonder. This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF’s past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they’re approached with ingenuity.” Publishers Weekly

4 thoughts on “{book} old man’s war

  1. I must admit that I get there are a handful of authors that I get really excited about when I see others reading their work, and John Scalzi is near the top of that list. When I saw your post’s title drop into my email box there was no thought of waiting, I had to rush over to catch your thoughts.

    Huge sigh of relief that you adored the book! John Perry is indeed a charming character, and being the ol’ softy romantic that I am I find it incredibly refreshing that even though the character briefly takes advantage of young, fit and sexually capable new body, he is a character who is not a walking hormone but is instead deeply devoted to his late wife and genuinely misses having her in his life.

    I was most impressed with the way in which Scalzi is able to capture Perry as a man who has lived a full life, despite his chance to go back and be young again. He doesn’t suddenly become this young person, he is an “old man” and he sees the world through the wisdom gleaned from a full life.

    I couldn’t agree with you more that the novel feels like it is a whole in and of itself. What makes it more thrilling is that it is not, so if a reader becomes as enamored of it as we have there are two more “adult” novels, a young adult novel, a novella, and a short story set in the same universe, most of which follow the story arc of the same characters. It is also interesting to note that there is something a little bit different about each book so the story stays fresh while retaining those things that are great about Old Man’s War.

    Too thrilled that you liked this so much!!!

  2. I’m with Carl. Glad you liked Scalzi’s book. It took a friend mailing me a paperback for me to finally start it, but once I did, I practically inhaled the thing. It deserves its many accolades, methinks. I remember laughing lots, even in the midst of battles, which made the book a real page turner. OMW is the only Scalzi I’ve read so far, but I’m assured that the rest of the books in the series are equally good.

    Great review, L.

  3. Okay guys (not just L, but Carl, Logan and Kelly too!) you’ve all made me want to really read this one. Talk about a book that is out of my genre comfort zone! Though I’m always interested in trying “real” science fiction. (Is this real science fiction? It seems like it to me anyway.) I’m off to see if the library has it!

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