Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-and aliens willing to fight for them are common. The universe, it turns out, is a hostile place.

So: we fight. To defend Earth (a target for our new enemies, should we let them get close enough) and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Old Man's War

John Scalzi is, by now, a well-established name in the modern science fiction scene and Old Man’s War, his debut novel, is the reason why. I’ve had Old Man’s War on my to-read list for ages now (pretty much since it came out in 2005) but for whatever reason I never could get around to it. Now, over a decade after its initial release, I did – and I’m ashamed at myself for not reading it sooner.

Old Man’s War treads that perfect line between advanced science and technobabble with rare elegance. There are nanobots, mind transferral units, advanced alien species, faster than light travel – and none of it gets lost behind obscure or obtuse language. That alone makes Old Man’s War one of the better sci-fi novels I’ve ever read – the perfect readability of it.

However, that is far from its only highlight. It also features an exquisitely paced plot, with effective use of foreshadowing throughout – and not in either an arcane or obvious way. Again, Scalzi treads the line between too much and too little with ease.

The same can be said for this character development – the protagonist is sketched out in broad strokes that are then amplified throughout the novel. Not once does he, or any of the other characters of the book, act too far out of character. Add to this John Perry’s easy wit and charm and there is an easy winner in most likable 75 year old ever created.

Featuring a deep universe of alien species, advanced technology, great characters, and a cracking plot, Old Man’s War deserved every bit of praise it received upon release. It has also catapulted John Scalzi into my top ten authors to read going forward.

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David Andrews is a long time blogger and writer, a fan of video games, books, history, and podcasts. You can find him on Twitter @proceduraldave

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