Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mini Review: John Scalzi's Old Man's War 

I finished the first science fiction novel I have read in around a year on my just completed flight home from Las Vegas, John Scalzi's Old Man's War. I am not sufficiently skilled in the art to write a real review of a science fiction novel, except to offer the conclusion that it was more than entertaining enough to motivate me to buy the sequel, The Ghost Brigades, plus an observation or two.

Old Man's War, which Glenn Reynolds has aptly called "entry level science fiction," presupposes a universe in which a great many intelligent and spacefaring races compete for control of planets suitable for colonization. Humanity wages this contest with chronologically old men and women who are fitted with reconditioned and enhanced bodies and trained to fight an unending imperialist struggle. It is a novel of military life, human-alien combat and speculation about the importance of human experience. That short synopsis does not, however, do the book justice. If you like hard science fiction in the tradition of Robert Heinlein, you will enjoy Old Man's War.

It is not original to observe that Old Man's War is, in fact, a descendent of Robert Heinlein's classic Starship Troopers. Scalzi is explicit in his debt to Heinlein, and more than one reviewer has made the comparison. Whether Scalzi was conscious of it or not, Old Man's War is also the younger brother of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, which won the Hugo Award in 1976. Indeed, the three books are in many ways the same story, imagined by writers of different generations. Just as Starship Troopers is interspecies war through the eyes of the "greatest generation," The Forever War reflects the alienation of Vietnam-era conscripts. Scalzi's all-volunteer Colonial Defense Force tracks the high morale and "networked battlefield" of the modern American Army. It would be interesting to read the three books consecutively -- perhaps some enterprising blogger with more time to read than I have will do just that.

In any case, Scalzi is getting much deserved recognition. Just two weeks ago, he won the Campbell Award for being the "best new science fiction writer."


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