Wednesday, June 14, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Old Man's War

The soldiers in Old Man's War by John Scalzi have the same mission as those in Star Trek: "To seek out new life and new civilizations." They just have a different reason for doing so.

"Our job is to go meet strange new people and cultures, and kill the sons of bitches as quickly as we possibly can." As Scalzi acknowledges in his acknowledgements, this is a Robert A. Heinlein-style universe, as in Starship Troopers for example.

The cover describes this a "a stunning novel of war and survival," and stunning is an understatement. We are in a future where the elderly are given an opportunity to join the military, to go into space and fight to protect human colonies from the very nasty other species out there. The recruiters imply that the septegenarian volunteers will somehow be whipped into fighting condition, reversing the aging process. How this is accomplished is part of the stunning beauty of this book.

Main character John Perry opens his narrative thus: "I did two things on my 75th birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army." That pretty much sums up what this powerful, immensely entertaining page-turner is all about. How powerful? When John Perry receives the equivalent of an electronic postcard on the seond-to-last page, I had to stop reading to process the emotional wallop - I couldn't read through the satisfied tears for a couple of minutes. How immensely entertaining a page turner? I played hooky from my wage-slave job for a day to finish the damn thing.

As you probably know, I fancy myself a future novelist, and have even gone ahead with having one translated into podcast form. Every so often I read an actual published novel that shoots my dream up with a healthy dose of despair - never in my wildest dreams could I create something this good. Yep, that's how good Old Man's War is: This one goes into B.W.'s all-time favorites file.

This is the second of the five hugo-nominated novels I've read, and if I wanted a winning novel I think I could stop right here. The only thing that gets me reaching for the next one is the wild possibility that one or more of the remaining three is even better. But the bar is raised bigtime.



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