Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

A debut traditional science fiction novel by John Scalzi was also a runner up for the Hugo Award. Pretty big accomplishment for a first novel. Gotta say, I went into this read with reservations. I’m not much for traditional science fiction / fantasy novels. They are usually less than perfectly written and focus on the insanely ludicrous worlds that can never happen or will never happen. That all takes me out of the story. Where most think “Yay! I get to forget about the world and immerse myself in this fantasy!” I can’t help but think, “Where’s the reality?”

Old Man’s War defied my expectations.

Sure, it’s traditional science fiction epic with humans colonizing the universe and I think 5 different alien races. But it starts with a solid “What If” and slowly takes you into the absurd that allows me to shrug and admit defeat into the world of the fantastic.

The “What If”? What if humans had the option not to die of old age? Well, this option comes with one major setback. One most are OK with accepting, until after they find out the truth. But by then, they’ve already signed their life away…literally.

The story looks at social issues such as colonization (which still exists), race, what makes one human, ethics, military ethics, and so on. Which are all huge pluses for me.

The writing was quite engaging. Although I do have two glaring complaints.

First, info dumps. I know it’s necessary in world building, which is probably another reason I don’t like sci-fi/fantasy. But all info dumping was done through the use of stupid and ignorant characters. This made it a LITTLE more tolerable. However, after a while I stopped buying the ignorance.

Second, the sad attempts at comedy. There were countless times when the characters were trying to be funny or the narrator was trying to be funny. And sure, the narrator is a 76 year old man, so his humor is a little off. But that’s the joy of novels, if we should suspend belief with aliens, beanstalks, colonizing the galaxy, there’s no reason to up the humor into funny territory rather than eye-rolling territory.

All in all, I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed. So much so that it will not surprise me if I end up continuing reading this series. The writing was strong, the concepts were not super inventive but not so over the top as to be silly, the social and political ideas are great, and the pacing was on point for the new style. I don’t think a Sci-fi reader would be disappointed, and I don’t think the average reader would be either.

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