Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Five Stars)


Book Review: Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War #1) by John Scalzi

(Five Stars)

“The universe is a big place. Maybe we’re not in the best neighborhood.”

(The following is the review I wrote for this book in 2008 upon my first reading. My opinion hasn’t changed. I’ve added a few quotes from the text, as I always do now, to give the reader a taste of the writing.)

Oh, yeah! This is what it’s all about. This is great fiction, and great science fiction. Read this book.

Perhaps I should explain why I call this fantasy as well as science fiction. Unlike many other readers, to me the presence of aliens in a story is as much a sign of fantasy as magic. I understand that the probability there might be life, intelligence and superior science and technology in this galaxy–let alone the rest of the universe–approaches unity, but . . . for us to populate our science fiction with them is as much a work of imagination as to create stories with dwarfs, elves, hobbits, etc. I’m certain many of you will object. Sorry, that’s how I see it.

“You said it wouldn’t hurt!” “I said ‘not so much,’” Dr. Russell said. “Not so much as what? Having your head stomped on by an elephant?” “Not so much as when the sensors connect to each other.”

Scalzi’s political correctness intrudes on his otherwise excellent story. Beyond the mandatory fawning demanded by our age, he fails to even give passing mention to physiological differences between the sexes–critical considerations for infantry. In fact, when the “Old Farts” get their new bodies, his (and their) attention is fixated on their physical beauty and condition without mentioning that the females’ enhancements might have been turned up a notch to compensate for their natural smaller size. It doesn’t hurt the story especially, but it is noticeable. And will surely mark this story in time just as the misogynistic attitudes of nineteenth century novels date them.

“Entropy is a bitch,” Alan said. “We’ve got theories to back that one up.”

His portrayal of military life is spot on except for two omissions. First, all battles are “at a distance.” Everything is surgical and arm’s length. The most intense kind of combat is hand-to-hand: confused, frightening and messy. He reports on melees, but none ever happen on stage. Even John’s crash landing seems too analytical and not emotional. Second, his “only need two hours of sleep” rule does not do away with the second feature of long engagements: being tired. Even if their green skin and super blood keeps them ready to go, sleep deprivation has psychological implications, which are not mentioned.

“He’s got cat’s eyes,” I said. “You’ve got cat’s eyes.”

Don’t let these quibbles dissuade you from reading <i>Old Man’s War</i>

(End of original review)

“Harry, were you always this paranoid,” I asked, “or was this something that crept up on you as you got older?” “How do you think I made it to seventy-five?”

New quibbles: “waiting as air was pumped back into the bay.” “The air will be pumped out of this bay in precisely seven minutes.” Why? Why not use an umbilical? Or sealed door? Especially to avoid repetitive pressurization, which probably take more than seven minutes for a shuttle bay that large.

And the Cubs won a World Series; who would have guessed? Not Scalzi.

“Not only don’t we know what we’re up against out here, sometimes we simply can’t imagine what we’re up against.”

1 thought on “Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Five Stars)

  1. In my travels online I saw a reference to Scalzi and remembered your earlier review. He’s on my list, but not at the top. I gather he’s hardcore sci-fi and I’m not. Nonetheless, glad to see the review again.

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