Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. ★★★
Scalzi’s books can be hit or miss for me, but at least I always find them to be fairly entertaining.
On his 75th birthday, John Perry visits his wife’s grave. Then, he signs up to join the Colonial Defense Force, the military branch that protects all of human space from possible alien threats. Earth knows little of what happens outside its gravity well, but Perry soon discovers that humanity is engaged in continuous, intensive warfare with other species. For most Earth dwellers, the only way to leave Earth and discover the rest of the universe is to join the Colonial Defense Force on your 75th birthday. You have to be seventy-five to join, which leads to a lot of questions as to how the CDF makes their new recruits fit for warfare…
I get the feeling that Old Man’s War is drawing a lot from older genre books I haven’t read. I’m not much into the classics; give me that modern sci-fi instead. So quite possibly there’s an additional layer to Old Man’s War that I was missing, and readers with different backgrounds might have enjoyed it more than me. As is, I found it to be a great concept, but I was not wowed by the execution.
It comes down to a matter of plot and structure. I didn’t think Old Man’s War had a strong plot. Most of the novel is preoccupied with John Perry joining up, going through training, his first couple of years on the force, ect. It’s interesting enough to keep me going, and of course, in the very beginning there’s the mystery of why the CDF recruits the elderly. Still, I can’t help feeling like I was treading water. A stronger conflict spread out through the whole book would have made the story a lot more enjoyable for me. The plotting improves in the last third, when Perry starts to gain motivations, goals, ect, but it just accentuated how much those were lacking in the majority of the novel.
I also would have liked stronger characterization. For a character who’s head I was in for an entire book, I don’t know a lot about John Perry. In part, this might tie back to the lack of motivation I mentioned earlier. I just would have liked more depth to him! And if that’s true for Perry, it goes double for the supporting cast. Old Man’s War has a pretty high causality rate, so it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters. That, and they’re almost indistinguishable in terms of voice.
I liked some of the world building elements. You can probably guess how the CDF uses elderly troops if you’ve read enough sci-fi, but it was still a cool concept. Plus, there was an alien species I found interesting. My only complaint world building wise is that there was some info-dumping at places, especially near the beginning.
For all my quibbles, I never actually contemplated quitting Old Man’s War. Still, I’m not planning on reading the sequels.