Old Man’s War
by John Scalzi
Military Science Fiction
I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, and when I got my Kindle it was one of the first books I got. I read it and loved it.
To me, this was the perfect science fiction tale. It featured a likable hero, the 75 year old John Perry. It involved a twist that I never saw coming, but sure should have. And it involved really, really ruthless enemies, and aliens that are just about as strange as one can imagine.
John Perry is celebrating his 75th birthday by joining the army. He intended to join with his wife, but she unfortunately died before the requisite age. He joins for a ten year term, and knowing that he can never return to Earth.
Before actually being able to join, he undergoes a rigorous series of physical and psychological exams. One of my favorite parts was when a doctor tells him that he has testicular cancer. The doctor is unconcerned about it and is totally uninterested in treating it.
“Why wouldn’t you cure it?” I asked. “If you can ‘shore up’ an affected region, it sounds like you could probably fix it completely if you wanted to.”
“We can, but it’s not necessary,” Dr. Russell said. “You’ll be getting a more comprehensive overhaul in a couple of days. We just need to keep you going until then.”
“What does this ‘comprehensive overhaul’ mean, anyway?” I asked.
“It means that when it’s done, you’ll wonder why you ever worried about a spot of cancer on your testicle,” he said. “That’s a promise …”
By this time, I was in total suspense about this “comprehensive overhaul” and dying to find out what it meant. And I never expected what it turned out to be.
For the entire first half of the novel, this suspense was more than enough to keep me turning the pages. The only real conflict was between the recruits and the military’s medical personnel, and even then, it was like the above. And the usual conflict between recruit and drill sergeant.
So what’s missing? A girl. And yes, there is a girl. Several, in fact, but really, the only girl for John is his dead wife, Kathy. She has an impact on the story in a big way. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Through most of the book, the other character drift in and out of the story and then die off. The story focuses on John exclusively and almost to its detriment. However, toward the end, it starts focusing on a core group of characters, especially one named Jane Sagan. She is a lieutenant in the ever-intriguing Ghost Brigades, the subject of the second novel in the series. (Which I read as well.)
One final thing–although this book is quite gritty, the gritty portions made me wince only because I was so taken with the main character. More importantly, the author did not overwhelm the story with grit– it is also full of humor and heart. I will be giving this novel a rare five stars at Amazon and GoodReads.
This Kindle version of this novel is the same price as the paperback, and that will spawn a gripe in an upcoming post. But regardless of which version you buy, it is well worth the money.