The Outlands Review
Exploring Far Flung Worlds and Speculative Ideas
Old Man’s War
John Scalzi writes fun, darkly comic sci fi and this is his debut novel. The book explores what society should do with an ageing population to ensure these older people are not a drain on the state. The answer is to send them into space to fight wars for Earth and the mysterious Colonial Union. What’s in it for the old people I hear you ask? They get new, younger, stronger and military grade bodies in which to fight against aliens in the outer reaches of the Universe. The catch? They can no longer return to Earth and it’s dangerous out there!
Scalzi has spoken in interviews how he was inspired to write the story after browsing his local bookstore and noticing how much military sci fi there was. Clearly it sold he thought to himself! He describes it as Heinleinesque after Robert A. Heinlein, one of his favourite authors who wrote Starship Troopers back in 1959.
The story follow the tour of duty of seventy five year old John Perry, who signs up with his wife but over the decade long cooling off period sees his wife die so enters service on his own. A short medical procedure transfers their consciousness into brand new bodies. Their new bodies have been engineered to perform and survive in extreme conditions and there are some fun moments as they explore their new bodies with superior speed and strength, far greater than their previous human bodies were ever able to accomplish and of course the return of their sex drives.
It’s not just the art of cloning that the CDU have mastered but they have also built a space elevator, ‘the beanstalk’, to get from Earth to their space station in Earth’s orbit, a faster than light technology for travelling around the Universe called a ‘skip drive’ and of course advanced weaponry.
John turns out to have a knack for the military life and gets chosen to be the platoon leader in basic training. After basic training John and his fellow recruits are given assignments to either protect new settlements from attack or take new settlements for human colonisation. They are warned only a quarter of their training group will survive. Humans have colonised a few dozen planets but there are hundreds more worlds inhabited by other sentient species who wish to destroy the human race and take the resources as their own.
We are introduced to the Gindalians, a bird like species with huge wings, The Vindi, a spider like species who attack a human settlement on Udaspri by hurling rocks from the giants rings down to the planet below. There is also the human like Covandu, just an inch tall, the battle loving Consul who fight for fun and the Rhaey who enjoy eating humans. All come with their unique challenges the CDU has to overcome.
John Scalzi had added a further five books to the series; The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division and The End of All Things. These are light and fun stories. A couple of great interviews on Old Man’s War and the process behind it can be found on on Strange Horizons and Locus Magazine.
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