REVIEW: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

REVIEW SUMMARY: Scalzi takes you on a speculative ride that is fast and rewarding.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The far future: Man has colonized the stars. And they’re hostile. Our solution: Fight back and fight first. Our recruits: Grandma and Grandpa. But not how you knew them. New and improved, like you’ve never seen or imagined.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Dialogue, humor, imaginative and well-used technology.

CONS: Lack of detail and jumps in time

BOTTOM LINE: Scalzi’s imagination and military prowess are superb, while working in a touching story that leaves you satisfied. And don’t worry…there is no Viagra.


John Perry is an old man. His wife is dead, and he’s joining the military. Certainly this is an interesting premise already, but it gets better.

Scalzi’s main character is intelligent, with a wry sense of humor and maintains a humble likability as he rises through the ranks. An imperfect past grounds him and make him real, while the passion and love he felt for his wife never waivers. Which is good, because this is a very personal struggle by one man. And if he didn’t sell the book on his own standing, there’d be trouble.

The technology ideas here may be old hat to some, but Scalzi uses them superbly–integrating them and making them a very real part of life and military maneuvers.

Cybernetic implants? Check.

Nanotech? Check.

Enhanced strength and speed? Check.

Green skin? Uh…you’ll see.

There’s more, but despite a couple bits, nothing was jaw-dropping different. But it didn’t need to be. Really illustrates how important execution is. A good idea is nice, but will get you nowhere if you can’t sell it within the story. We’re past the day and age when an interesting idea can make a sci-fi novel; there need to be deep characters, a convincing setting and it needs to all…work.

Humor is a solid reason to read this book. If you’re not laughing through their version of Boot Camp, then something is wrong with you (or perhaps Twilight is more your fort√©–yes…I went there…).

My one real complaint with Old Man’s War would be its lack of description. On the other hand, the narration is concise, amusing, and it makes the pages fly. There is no fluff in this book. Yes, I wished it had been longer and more detailed, but this is more a testament to Scalzi’s skill than a lack of sheer book to read. So, in most regards, it makes up for its sparse detail. However, due to its brevity and the large jumps in time the narrative can take, the reader is sometimes left with the White Room effect. (If not commonly known, I’ve heard reference to this before and it is simply the loss of connection to the setting and surrounding stimuli. This makes you feel like the current conversation is taking place in a Matrix-like loading space–and not in a cool way.) It is a testament to the quality of the dialogue, story and well-used technology that this is not a bigger issue.

The story’s setting is huge with a propensity for an EPIC story. There are large scale battles and conflicts, cliff hangers, aliens up the wazoo, but it is not Space Opera. It is one man’s journey. That’s it. I didn’t find this to be a failing, but I did find it jarring when I realized the end was coming near and there was nothing earth-shattering in its conclusion.

Satisfying, but not earth-shattering.

Usually I love my stories to be epic and I like my endings to be monumental. This might have resulted as a fail for me in another book, but Old Man’s War was just…different. I can’t help but wish there had been more. Oh wait, there are more books set in the same universe. Ah. Well played, Scalzi. Well played…

As a first book it is phenomenal, quick to read and leaves you antsy for more. What else could Scalzi have wanted for his first foray into fiction? It gets a solid 4.5 stars from me. I may be late to the game here and telling you what you already know, but for anyone that hasn’t read Old Man’s War… Go get it!

See also: John’s review.

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi”

  1. Great book, I have also read this a couple of times and must admit I didn’t suffer from the white room syndrome that much, Scalzi has a deft talent in bringing the reader up to speed rapidly without engaging in an info dump. That said i do agree with the reviewer that some of the technology is sketchy at best, and that I would have loved to know a bit more about it. When it comes to the end of the book it should be remembered that Scalzi has wrote several sequels now (despite not wanting to make these into a series).

    If you a scifi geek and haven’t read this book then I highly recomend that you pick up a copy and give it a go, yes most of the ideas in this book are far from fresh, but the execution of this book and the humor make this a must read… I have lent my copy to half a dozen friends and they have all been just as enamoured as I am, several have even bought their own copies to reread and to lend on.

  2. One of the best books of the modern era of space opera and one of the few authors who captured the same balance of story-telling and sensawunda that grabbed me when I read Heinlein. It suffered from a bit of “first novel-itis” but that quickly gave way to characters I liked and a story that kept me turning the pages. I thought its sequel, The Ghost Brigade, was the best of this series of books but overall I liked the first three books very much (but did not read the fourth).

  3. The first part of the book where he gets inducted is one of the most fun times I’ve had reading a book.  I think he wrote Agent to the Stars before Old Man’s War though.  I’ve read 100 pages of The Ghost Brigades and all of The Last Colony, but didn’t enjoy them as much.  You have to admire his succinctness when most other writers go into pages of emo inner dialog.

     

     

  4. Military science fiction is my favorite genre and Old Man’s War is my favorite book of said genre. Granted it’s not my favorite series (that goes to John Ringo’s Legacy of Aldenata) but in many ways Old Man’s War is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I don’t think any of the sequels truly match the original in terms of awesomeness though. I can’t say I was a fan of Ghost Brigades and the later books seemed a bit preachy, but Old Man’s War was just fantastic. 

  5. I completely agree with Paul NYC.  Scalzi reminds me of classic Heinlein.  He doesn’t give me 1000 pages on technology and world building that I honestly don’t need.  He just focuses on the plot and the characters and allows that to drive the story.  I like that quite a bit and I think more modern sci-fi authors should do that.  I really don’t care how your FTL engines work or why your empire of tentacled worms came to be, that’s fluff and please don’t bore me with it just to make your 300 page book into a 5 book series.

    (warning, rant mode on!) Take a look at some of the recent Webber stories if you want a bad example of this.  1000 freaking pages of fluff with dozens of characters running around doing lots and lots of talking leading up to….. NOTHING! (rant mode off)

    Scalzi’s other books are also excellent by the way.

  6. A few years ago there seemed to be a flood of Starship Troopers tributes and this book was the best. A found myself reading it pretty rapidly because I enjoyed it, and I think it would make a fun movie. I then purchased all of the sequels, but found that I was ultimately disappointed!!

    The first book had the hardline Heinlein feel where having any pity for the enemy and so on is insane. That’s not what I agree with in real life, but based on fighting aliens I can believe that genocide would be easy for all parties involved. There was a scene in this book where a soldier attempts diplomacy and gets blasted for his foolishness, and that’s the message of the book. However, by book three, the whole mood changes, everyone is nice, and yes good things are possible in the once hellish galaxy.

    I took that as a wimpout by Scalzi (I admire his publishing rise) who didn’t want to be associated with a war series so that people would like him. Thus, I’ve never read another book by him again.

  7. Thanks for all the comments. It was definitely a good read and I was happy to delve into it.

    @Chris Johnston – Sounds like a worthy task!

    @Andy – It sounds like you’ve read the other books in the universe and they are worthy reads. They’ll be on my radar eventually, after a few others to get through. Lending your book? Brave soul. Two times I have lent my books, once it was not returned and another (hardback) came back with damage to the exterior

    @Paul – Thanks for the mention of The Ghost Brigade, I’ve heard much about that one and will probably read it next when I return to some Scalzi.

    BrainPal? Yes, me too! However I wouldn’t want to order a Do-it-yourself kit from Amazon… Imagine if you messed up the install… YIKES!

    @tam – Really? I haven’t heard of that one. Emo-inner dialogue…yeah, true. But I have to admit I do enjoy that sometimes. It can take you further into the character and their internal conflicts. However, it can also irritate. Delicate balance. Wheel of Time offended a lot of people with overkill in that regard. I think the last couple of books have dealt better.

    @Nick Sharps – I hear that Scalzi blogged the book before it got published. I wonder if that might have helped with all the input he must have gotten from his followers.

    @Gal – Here is where you will all probably kill me. I haven’t actually read any Heinlein before. I’ve been hearing oodles about him for a while though, so it seems like I really need to pick something up. After my early years of reading (Asimov & Harry Harrison), I mostly got into fantasy and didn’t ever really go back, though I’ve always remained a fan.

    Good point. I did love how he cut to the point, though I usually go for other fare, I can certainly appreciate a man that doesn’t bog the book and pacing down with frills. I read once that you shouldn’t put anything in to your story that doesn’t move it forward. Here, here! I’m trying to stick to that motto with my own books. We’ll see how it comes across.

    @TheAdlerian – Yes! That scene was well set up.

  8. John does have a pretty successful blog, I chanced upon Old Man’s War thanks to a little mention to it in the Official Play Station Magazine all those years back. He actually wrote movie reviews for them for a while. I’ve seen the comparison drawn to Heinlein before and I don’t quite agree with it fully. It does have the basic structure of Starship Troopers (the rise of an infantryman through the ranks) but I think it’s a much more personal account of war. It could just be prejudice, I read this before I ever picked up Starship Troopers, but that’s just my opinion.

  9. OMW was got me back into contemporary SF.  It brought back the sensawunda I knew and loved.  The Ghost Brigades let me down a little, probably because I was so blown away with OMW.

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