In this universe, experience counts.
John Perry is 75 years old, his wife is dead, and he has nothing left to live for. It’s a perfect time to join the army, and the Colonial Defense Force is recruiting. They need a lot of loyal human bodies to maintain the universe colonization project, so their preference is to recruit old people, rejuvenate their bodies (nobody on Earth knows exactly how this happens), and train them to fight for the human race. Most of them will be dead within a few years, but that’s all they were expecting on Earth anyway. The Colonial Defense Force gives them something valuable to do for humanity, and a chance for a new life.
Old Man’s War is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read this year. The premise — old people being rejuvenated — makes for an excellent twist on the usual alien-fighting theme. The elderly, as opposed to the usual young heroes we find in so many speculative fiction novels, have had a lifetime to accumulate knowledge, skills, wisdom, and experience. I found John Perry and his cohort to be mature heroes whom I could admire and enthusiastically cheer for. I cried for them, too, as they lost each other or ruminated on past loves. Perry’s explanation of why he missed being married was moving and reminded me of my graduate school days when I would have felt lonely and unsupported (and maybe quit) if it hadn’t been for my husband’s presence.
Scalzi’s villains, on the other hand — all those alien creatures — are absolutely horrifying! The humans usually have no idea what they’ll find on a new planet, which is why their mortality rate is so high. It could be an insectoid creature with razors for hands, or a jumping slime mold, or a virus… The diversity of alien life that Scalzi has created adds suspense and terror to his story.
Old Man’s War is not a comedy, but it’s often funny — very funny. I laughed hard and out loud many times. William Dufris, the narrator of the audiobook version I listened to, contributed to the humor by reading the funny parts in a perfect deadpan voice. Dufris was outstanding and I highly recommend Macmillan Audio’s version.
I will definitely be reading John Scalzi’s other books in this series. Old Man’s War was excellent.
Military life in the future, fighting aliens over planets to colonize. The mysterious Colonial Defense Force recruits 75 year old men and women to fight its wars, and many sign up because some sort of second shot at youth is involved, and at this point in their lives they figure there’s nothing to lose. But exactly what are they getting themselves into? And how is the CDF going to turn all these old farts into fighting machines?
I was really proud of my deductive reasoning in figuring out that Old Man’s War was an homage to Robert Heinlein‘s Starship Troopers, but then I realized I’m like the umpteenth millionth person to figure that out, and anyway there it is, right in Scalzi’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. In any case, it’s a lot less didactic and preachy, and much easier to read, than Heinlein’s book (for me, anyway), if not as realistic about military life.
There were some philosophical questions about war that I was expecting Old Man’s War to grapple with in a more meaningful way, but the book kind of breezes past all of them, with just a nod to the question of “Why are we fighting all these aliens anyway?” Seriously, with all these alien races out there, are there no better ways to settle interstellar differences? I wish this had been addressed more deeply, and I’m not certain whether Scalzi just decided this isn’t that kind of book, or whether he saved these issues for the sequels. Maybe I’ll find out one of these times. Whatever the reason may be, if you hate war, this won’t be your kind of book.
So just understand that Old Man’s War is an action-packed, imaginative book with lots of violence, and have fun and roll with it. I started it one day, intending to read only a chapter or two, and ended up reading the whole thing, even though I had a shelf full of other books I meant to read first, which says something.
Old Man’s War is kind of a great action movie. Except a book. But all books can’t be War and Peace, and I think there will always be a place in my heart for the ones that are sheer fun and adrenaline. Kind of like how The Avengers is one of my favorite movies, even though it’s not terribly profound. “Puny god!”
Old Man’s War — (2005-2015) Nominated for a Hugo Award. Publisher: 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.