Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Ok, so I’m behind the times, I just read the book. That’s life. Turns out, the book is really quite a good read. I wasn’t sure what to expect and to be honest I was a little skeptical – the premise seemed a touch crazy. Interstellar war is now waged by geriatrics from Earth who are given back their youth. From what little I knew, I was prepared to be annoyed as hell at the book. But still, the word was good and I gave it a shot.

My executive review is… good read, nice writing but it lacked a certain soul that prevented it from attaining “great book” status in my opinion, I give it a 7.5 on my scale of 0-10. I hope there’s not too much spoilage in this li’l review, but there’ll inevitably be some. So the reader has been warned.

Scalzi neatly explains the various bits that I was skeptical about and comes up with a really original back story. There are a lot of things in his universe that I found to be really novel and not completely crazy (which some sf/f authors resort to for originality), and I think that’s fairly rare these days. Which is not to say that things need to be original to be good, or that original things are always good. He weaves in a lot of interesting backstory without resorting to any sci-fi style monologuing, which is also very refreshing.

At it’s heart it’s a story about one old man’s journey from earth to interstellar war. I think the pacing of the novel is done well, it develops evenly and keeps you turning pages (and turning pages and turning pages). The mix of action and development is just right, it never feels forced or contrived. The book moves in three broad sections, pre-training, training and post-training. Each one feels very different from the next, but Scalzi transitions easily between them. It’s very well done.

My problem with the novel is that there’s almost no stress involved. The protagonist leads a charmed life – he sails through everything put before him in a very offhand way. Everyone you meet is pretty much exactly as they seem, lifelong bonds are forged instantly and, for me, there just wasn’t any emotional presence. There’s something about the writing I found very impersonal.

I found some cliche in the book, the obvious one he’s aware of – the sergeant archetype in the novel. Scalzi even has the sergeant mention the stereotype and explicitly say that he is not part of it – only to actually and sadly fall directly inline with it at the end. I found that annoying and on occasion some other bits troubled me, but they were all and quite minor.

Overall, it’s a really good book. I recommend reading it to anyone who enjoys the science fiction, especially military science fiction (although the pacing is a bit slower than your typical mil sf). As a debut novel, definitely impressive and I hope he continues to perfect his craft. I’ll be following along.

PS I need a BrainPal.

PPS Seriously.

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