A few months ago I reviewed “Redshirts” by John Scalzi and disliked it so much I said it would be quite a while before I got convinced to approach his work again. Well, I lied. I picked up “Old Man’s War,” read it all, and…actually liked it. It was a good, fun book.
In the future, old people can register for a draft to fight against alien species all vying for habitable colony planets. These people are given new superhuman bodies allowing them to do a lot more than just relive their old glory days.
The first half, describing one man’s registration and subsequent experiences in training, are surprisingly more riveting than the actual war sections. The problem with these parts is that it they start to blend together: introduce an alien species and their odd quirks, describe problems fighting them, people die, then they figure out how to defeat them for the time being. It often felt like Scalzi was spending the majority of these portions just setting up sequels. It takes quite a while for the actual plot to reveal itself, and when it does, the book picks up again, but still.
As for the characters, the main character is a bit of a Mary Sue. Survives things that literally kill everyone else. After one scene in the training camp I had to put the book down and roll my eyes. He also does something oddly out of character towards the beginning of the book. I won’t spoil it here, but given the main plot of the book, you’d think he would be more conflicted doing a certain act after receiving his new body.
But it’s an interesting book. Does it deserve all the fame? Well, it is a new take on the old military scifi cliché and offers a lot of thrills. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s absolutely worth a read, especially as we approach beach season and people look for a book to read as the waves crash around them.