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John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

Title: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Year: 2005

Published in 2005, Old Man’s War is in its essence a follow-up to other science fiction war novels such as Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Ender’s Game (all which are mentioned in the novel itself). It’s similar to these in that it covers the training and life of soldiers in for an interstellar battlefield, and in doing so, tries to make a few points about war and humanity. Scalzi does this fairly differently, though, even though the similarities with Starship Troopers and The Forever War are pretty obvious.

John Perry is old, seventy five to be exact, and he has lost his wife to a heart attack. He has nothing to live for and old age is beginning to take its toll. Thus, he can see no reason not to enroll in the Colonial Defense Forces, which, after all, offers rejuvenation and, after a full term of service, a new life in one of the colonies. Of course, the propaganda of the recruitment division and the horrors of warfare against extra-terrestrial life are of course not the same thing. The sudden change for Perry as he leaves his familiar life on Earth to face a hostile universe is the main focus of this novel.

John Scalzi is adept at one thing, which is probably the major reason this book is pretty good. He knows what he shouldn’t include. Time and time again, I read passages where the author elegantly leaves out parts that would’ve been boring or that wouldn’t have added anything to the narrative. I often get the feeling that lesser authors would elongate these moments and drone on endlessly. Scalzi, on the other hand, deftly directs the flow of the story, focusing on what’s interesting and never lose this focus. As a result, Old Man’s War is exactly as long as it should be, a very sparsely populated category of books indeed.

In addition to this, there are some interesting ideas in this novel, some new thoughts on future technology and its implications for humanity. John Perry has to face serious questions about what it means to be human when everything around him, even his own body, changes beyond recognition. He also has to find his place in a universe much less friendly than it was supposed to be. Can there really be no alternative to war, is humankind bound to declare war on every single species we find, on or outside Earth?

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