Review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Old Man’s War
By John Scalzi; Read by William Dufris
Audible Download – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: macmillan audio / audible.com
Published: October 2007
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military SF / War / Telepathy / Space Travel / Galactic Civilization /
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 alien races willing to fight us for them are common.
There’s an excellent subgenre of science fiction that produces a novel every dozen years or so. “Tributes to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers“, I call it. First in this subgenre was The Forever War (1974) – a kind of anti-Starship Troopers novel. Second was Ender’s Game (1985) a kind of micro/macro version of ST. There was even a satire called Bill The Galactic Hero (1965), which parodied ST. The latest novel in this little branch of SF is Old Man’s War, a faithful ode to Heinlein’s original tale of Earther civilian turned hardened space soldier. The war of the title is both familiar and different. Gone are the powered armor and accompanying fission bomb launcher of Heinlein’s mid-twentieth century novel. In are genetically engineered soldiers and nanotech weapon systems. Another innovation in Old Man’s War includes is the BrainPal™, a neural implant that makes battlefield communication exacty like telepathy. Tech and lineage aside this is one hell of a story all on its own. All of the previous novels in this niche spent a great deal of time in training their protagonist. Same goes here, Old Man’s War has the requisite gruff staff sergeant of the “Colonial Defense Forces” who trains the hero, John Perry, and his fellow recruits. It also has the first shock of combat, a learning curve towards mastery and some twists and turns you can’t see coming. Old Man’s War also has the pure brutality of war, the comradely companionship a love story (of sorts). New to the series is a light touch of humor here and there, John Perry was writer before he joined the army. The alien enemies he fights aren’t bugs (nor “buggers”), but are memorable and varied. The Consu, for instance, are deeply religious, and though having a superior technology to every known alien race – including humans – will fight only with roughly equal technology to any species they encounter. The Salong, meanwhile, are a deer-like species that while appearing shyly doe-eyed, fight humans because they find us extremely tasty – a case of the hunters become the hunted. One scene of combat has Perry and his platoon stomping like Godzilla a city of lilliputian aliens that the Humans have somehow made a grudge with. Later in the book we discover that there are some soldiers in the CDF who don’t share the common background of Perry and his platoon. These “Ghost Brigades” as they are called, are a fascinating new twist all on their own, and judging by the title of the already written sequels (The Ghost Brigades, The Sagan Diary and The Last Colony) were going to be learning more about them. This is delightfully compelling listening, like any little genre it comforts with the familiarity of form and entertains with the variations on the theme.
Audible.com (and the iTunes Audiobook Store) has made itself a must-try service by the very exclusivity of this audiobook. If you want to hear this Hugo nominated adventure, you have to sign up with audible.com or iTunes to get it. Narrator William Dufris is his reliable self, injecting battalions of charm and humor into the voices of John Perry and his various companions. Old Man’s War is a righteous addition to Heinlein’s Troopers legacy. The name of John Scalzi can now stand in Science Fiction pantheon proudly beside the likes of Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman and Robert A. Heinlein.
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