Old Man’s War – Review

Old-Mans-WarYes I know, this series have had thousands of reviews and is already read by 96,4 percent of the galaxy’s population. So why write another review? Well the answer is simple, I want to. If I can get just one more person to read this series it will be worth it. Come to think of it, it is worth it anyway.

Published in 2005, Old Man’s War was american author John Scalzi’s debut novel and more or less instantly put him among the top science fiction writers of today. For a Sci-Fi junkie like myself it provided something not often seen in this genre, namely novelty,  giving old well-known topics of the genre a nice new spin and also introducing new elements to enjoy.
Mr. Scalzi has since his debut been a productive writer, putting out approximately one book each year. This productivity has not been on the expense of quality though and he just landed 3,4 million dollar deal with Tor Books for his next 13 novels. In today’s climate of self-publishing the deal has not been applauded by everyone but I salute it, it’s always nice to see quality rewarded.

The Story

In the novel that give the series it name we follow John Perry and his service as a soldier in the Colonial Defense Force (CDF). Now you may surmise that Perry is a kick-ass special force guy that has countless sharp missions under his belt. Well, not exactly, as we meet him he is a retired advertisement writer and, at 75 years of age, not exactly in a position to take on the enemies of a now space faring human race. By now you may fear that the story will take place in a nursing home where a feeble minded John Perry dream delusional dreams of being a space conquering hero, fear not, this being science fiction we of course find ourselves in a world that long since has solved that pesky problem with old age and mortality.
oldmanwarMind you, the mortality solution is not for everybody and it not even well known among the general earth population that it exist. To get this second chance at life you have to sign a very diffuse letter of consent pledging service to the CDF and give a DNA sample. You must also sign off on the condition that you will never be allowed to return to earth (I would have signed without blinking!). John and his wife Kathy signed up on this deal 10 years prior to the start of the story, envisioning a life spent together exploring the galaxy. Sadly Kathy passed away several years before the intended departure and now John must face the unknown alone.

We join Perry as he takes the space lift to the immense spaceship Henry Hudson, which I guess is named after the famous English sea explorer and navigator, where he meets a collection of other volunteers. Soon the mechanism behind how to restart their lives becomes revealed in a process where their minds are transferred into new bodies grown on the foundation on the DNA samples collected several years earlier. The new bodies are more or less identical to their old ones, albeit younger versions of them, but has been altered and improved with several new abilities and “gadgets”.  The most important of these gadgets being the BrainPal, a neural interface that makes instant long-distance conversations between squad members possible.
As you might imagine, to suddenly find oneself back in the body of a 20 year old athlete makes you want to try it out. Thoughtful as they are the CDF have provided for this and the journey to their first destination is filled with activities, athletic as well as more…well…personal ones.

Our diverse group of heroes, now having baptized themselves “The Old Farts”, finally arrive on Beta Pyxis III where they are to receive military basic training. Soon Perry find himself promoted to platoon leader, not so much due to his physical prowess or leadership skills as the fact that his drill sergeant has chosen one of Perry’s advertising taglines as his personal slogan.
With their new bodies enhanced abilities the training period is rather quick and Perry is soon sent into action. It turns out that even though the universe is a fairly large place then number of inhabitable worlds is limited. Tensions between the intelligent races are therefore high and both skirmishes and outright war lurks always behind the next corner.

Perry soon proves himself a more than able soldier and commander and for a time everything goes well. Until the Battle of Coral that is. Going to head with the Rraeys, a race that, among other endearing qualities, have acquired quite a taste for human flesh, Perry and his team soon finds themselves on the loosing side. The Rraey unexpectedly show technological advances that until now was thought far beyond them, and the CDF forces must soon flee, taking heavy losses. Perry himself is left for dead but is saved at the last moment by a special forces soldier named Jane Sagan. After regaining consciousness Perry is startled to discover that Jane exhibits a striking resembles to his dead wife Kathy while Jane shows no signs of recognizing John. I wont go into much more detail about this, only to say that DNA samples may have several uses.

After receiving yet another promotion John Perry is thrown into the maelstrom of intergalactic politics, filled with shady deals, corruption and behind-the-curtain motives. Chaos, mayhem and just plain fun soon ensues!

The Verdict

Old Man’s War is a good book, a very good book, and it sparks off a series that keep getting better. The universe created by Mr. Scalzi is believable and he has filled with races that stays clear of the the usual just-another-evil-alien-with-tentacles-and-claws category. In fact he manages to make the distinction between good and evil rather blurry, as it often is in real life. And the good guys…well maybe they are not so good at all when show comes to tell.
Another good thing with the series is that Scalzi stays clear of the temptation to overburden us simple readers with details of how the different future technological advances work. Not to say that he just skimps over them, they are mentioned and explained in just enough detail to make it believable. The same goes for military strategies and tactics, while writers like David Weber loves to show us how much they know of how the minds of great military geniuses work, Mr Scalzi writes more in the tradition of Orson Scott Card and Lois McMmaster Bujold. It’s down to earth and easy to read without sacrificing authenticity.

I have many favorite science fiction writers, from new and exciting G.S. Jennsen to good old Isaac Asimov, but few have managed to both surprise and delight me as much as John Scalzi.  I sincerely mean that Scalzi, together with Peter F. Hamilton and the before mentioned G.S Jennsen, is the future of science fiction. And a bright future it is!

I would be amiss if I didn’t also draw your attention to John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, were you will find his musing on a variety of subjects. Highly enjoyable!

In addition he is very active on Twitter and you should of course follow him there: @scalzi


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