“Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi – entertaining, old school science fiction that is charming rather than challenging

Old Man's War

The premise of “Old Man’s War” is simple but original. What if, at seventy five years old, you were given the option, via some process of which you have no detailed knowledge, of becoming young again, provided you signed up to spend ten years in the Colonial Defense Force, traveling the galaxy to meet aliens and annihilate them?

This leisurely book follows the adventures of one self-proclaimed “Old Fart” who takes up the offer.

He’s an ordinary family man from Ohio who made his living as a copywriter, married the love of his life, had children,  grew old, retired and after decades of marriage, was suddenly widowed. He sees his choices as a prolongation of grief accompanied by an inevitable decline into dotage or the chance to have a new life. No contest. No contest at all. He’s not a military man, in fact he protested the last war the USA fought, but killing aliens seems a small price to pay for being young again.

As we follow our hero through the (not at all what he expected) transformation back to youth and vigour, we get to laugh at the Old Farts rediscovering the voracious appetites of the young. We go through basic training in a sort of weird but satisfying mix of “Cocoon” meets “Full Metal Jacket” with enough original twists to keep me interested and amused.

Then the fighting starts and the tone gets darker as people start to die.There is a mix of “see how clever I am” stories where our hero works out more efficient ways to kill large numbers of aliens, through sadness at the loss of friends, through to revulsion at the killing machine our hero has allowed himself to become.

The fighting is engaging and exciting. The emotions are well handled and our hero’s development is entirely plausible.

The cover of “Old Man’s War” compares Scalzi to Heinlein and I think the comparison is valid, both from quality of the writing and the ideas and from the way in which conservative American values are carried into space without being changed or challenged.

This book is entertainment. It will make you smile. It may make you cry. It will give you a romanticised view of war as an opportunity for bravery, loyalty, and ingenuity and it will make you hope the good guy wins through. If that appeals to you then settle down and let William Dufris bring the book alive in your ears.

 

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