On his 75th birthday John Perry visited the grave of his wife and enlisted in the Army. This is one hell of a opening premise for a novel. This itself raises all sorts of questions about the nature of the story and the world behind the story. What sort of an army is this that would accept a 75 year old man? Why would a 75 year old man think about joining the army? What sort of world / universe is this that such a situation is even possible? What's going on?! The hook, well, hooked me. This is John Scalzi's debut novel and it is a doozy. I can see the cover blurb now "Old Man's War a doozy. - some reader" But really, how best to get my excitement for this book across without using the usual tired cliches that come up? A real page turner? Yep. A wild ride? That too. A modern science fiction masterpiece? A bit presumptuous perhaps, but the book was on the Hugo shortlist and managed to thrill and excite me for old men in space far more than Clint Eastwood's movie Space Cowboys did. How's that for a recommendation? "Better than Space Cowboys! - some guy"
Okay. Here's the story: The novel is set on future Earth where Humankind has been colonizing the Universe. The Colonials have pretty well kept the rest of Earth stuck on the planet except for those who are willing to volunteer for the Colonial Army. The mortality rate is very, very high and the service is for a minimum of two years up to a maximum of ten years at the discretion of the Colonial Army. Those who survive will be given a new life and a homestead on a colony. This is the only way off Earth and into the Universe at Large. The Colonials are battling a variety of alien races for planets to colonize. Scalzi gives us an impressive variety of alien life. Very creative. Back to the plot description: The Colonial Army will only take men and women from America at the age of 75. The Earthbound senior citizens assume they will be made young, though nobody knows how. How else would a 75 year old be able to fight?
The reality is far different than they or the reader could expect. The story is far more thrilling than I anticipated. There is part Full Metal Jacket with the training and part just military science fiction told with appropriate humor for the situations. John Scalzi introduces the reader to a novel and a world far greater than the slim 300 pages would suggest. There is storytelling and narrative depth here, though the story moves along very fast.
Few novels make me sit up and say "Damn!" but Old Man's War did and Scalzi does simply an excellent job here to write fun, exciting, memorable science fiction that is nowhere near as dense as the work of Peter F Hamilton (and I like Hamilton, don't get me wrong). This is accessible science fiction that is a true joy to read.
There. Did that get my excitement for Old Man's War across?