Review: Old Mans War

The Book of Sean

Amazon Plug

 
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.

All content copyright 2017, Sean Woods | email: yoda@etoyoc.com | phone: 703-342-2662