Friday, April 27, 2012

What We're Reading: More John Scalzi

What do you plan to do on your 75th birthday? Do your plans include enlisting in the army? What if they could? In fact, what if the minimum age for enlistment was 75? This is the intriguing scenario explored in Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

It’s John Perry’s 75th birthday. His plans include two things: visiting his wife’s grave, and enlisting in the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). He and Kathy, his wife, had investigated joining the CDF when they turned 65, and had signed “Intent to Join” papers. But now Kathy is gone, while John is feeling old and is tired of growing older. He doesn’t know what enlistment entails (no one does), beyond being declared legally dead and being forbidden to ever return to Earth. But what he believes is that enlistment will give him a chance at a longer life. So, John has enlisted in the CDF. What will he be expected to do? Since he will never return to Earth, where will he be doing it? And--most importantly--will the CDF somehow make him young again?

Old Man’s War is a sprawling military sci-fi adventure in the tradition of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Time Enough For Love. While everything is seen through a military perspective, the use of fully developed senior citizens from a number of differing backgrounds--complete with lifetimes of experience--to question and evaluate the circumstances provides an interesting viewpoint. Indeed, Scalzi’s idea of using a group of aging adults rather than the more typical group of young adults provides the story with an unusual perspective. For instance, how would you approach a chance to cheat death and begin a new life if it meant leaving your loved ones (and everything else you’d ever known) behind forever? And how valuable would that new life be if you knew that it came with the certainty that, as a soldier, you would have to kill other sentient beings and would constantly be under the threat of being killed as well?

The military action is harrowing and grim, but Scalzi finds ways to inject humor and a lighter (but still appropriate) tone that prevents the book from devolving into a spiral of negative events. Old Man’s War is a gripping and enjoyable read, the first of a series, succeeded by The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’sTale.

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