Review: Old Mans War
Being a budding Sci-Fi writer, I also tend to read. A lot. Just bought a copy of John Scalzi "Old Man's War". Fantastic page turner. Cracked it open at 9:30pm, had it read by 4am. It's an occupational hazard of working in IT. I generally go through 1000 pages or so of technical material a week. You get REALLY good a speed reading after a while. Either that or you go into management and hire people like me to do your reading for you. The job also plays well with my complete lack of a circadian rythem. Once my mind gets started on something, I'll go all night, all day, and eventually pass out from exhaustion. Which is probably why I got married. Having to regularly deal with someone who is actually up in the morning and asleep at night (and coordinating my schedule accordingly) keeps me sane. Okay, not sane, but at least with one foot in the world of the living. So back on task. I've been making a point to reading newly released science fiction to get an idea for what is being done in this day and age. Sci-Fi from the 50's is WAY different than Sci-Fi today. Our understanding of technology has improved, dramatically. The cultural biases in our everday lives have changed, dramatically. Not that the 50s were some kind of golden age. Civilization changes on a regular basis, and like it or not Sci Fi is pretty much a pop culture art form. In some cases, we use in everday life today stuff that a 60s writer would never imagine. (Take mobile phones and the Internet). On the other hand, you sometimes get Gems that are so timeless that we can look past the ... ... Sorry. Let's get back to this book review. Old Man's War is an extremely well crafted novel. And this is coming from a writing geek. Scalzi's writing style is so gripping and enticing that it took until after my first reading of the book, and a cup of coffee the next morning, for me to do my "HEY Wait a minute!" about the plot holes, technological "don't go theres", and various and sundry other crimes against literature. Keep in mind, I'm a sci-fi geek. I LOVE Asimov, Clarke, and Verne. But as much as I love them, I also know that every author's work is compromise between imagination, market pressures, and the craft of story telling. I have issues with EVERYBODY's stuff. Generally because I'm trying to get in the business of doing it better than they can. I also tend to find editing errors in movies, programming goofs in kiosks, and more or less can find a problem with almost everything up to and including apple pie, capitalism, and motherhood. It's my job, I'm an Engineer. Granted a college dropout beatnick of one. As much as I'm and engineer, I am also a fan. Consider it an aspect of Evil Twin Skippyism, you can love something and also acknowedge problems with it. I'm going to avoid discussing the problems with the story. They are theological, theoretical, and largely center around "If I were to have written the story..." As Scalzi says often in the book (when describing technologies) "You don't have the math." And you don't need the Math. Scalzi does a brilliant job of presenting characters, technologies and concepts, and then immediately dropping them into vivid action sequences. The story, while it does suffer from "Heinlein" syndrome, flows well. Exposition is in small bite sized packets. There is ample character development in the story. And the setting is fluid enough, and so well constructed, that you have immediate buy into the characters actions and motivations. This is the stuff that makes literature literature, whether you are talking about westerns, political thrillers, or bio-engineered warriors locked in mortal combat with alien races. One can write a work that is completely thought out and self consistent, but (ok with the notable exception of Looking Backwards) if you don't have real characters the work is going to gather dust. Scalzi's book takes place in a world where humanity finds itself coming of age in hostile galaxy. To meet threats to the Earth and its conquered territories, it has put together a massive defense force manned by Senior Citizens. ???WTF!??? Yes, the book is that well written that you buy that. No plot spoilers, but it works. Essentially you live out your life, and can decide to retire to a new life traveling to distant planets, encountering new life forms, and killing them. By means that become apparent in the story, you are given a new lease on life, get strapped to a pile of nifty sci-fi gear, and are blasting buggies faster that you can say "HOOOYAAA MASTER CHIEF". Our main character develops a clique during boot camp, and we get to follow the lives (and glorious deaths) of many of these folks through the story. He even has backstories and personalities for the many "Red Shirts" that pass through the stories chapters. (Though frankly he does tend to make them so annoying that you don't really miss them when they die, on schedule, at the end of the episode. One not so spoiler: there is no "one" enemy. Scalzi does a thorough job of developing several alien races, friendly and not, for our characters to meet. All in all if you love "Enders Game", you are going to love "Old Man's War." Come for the action and the characters. The technology and setting are just there as a backdrop. As well the should.