On John Perry's 75th birthday, he went and visited his wife's grave and then enrolled in the army. If Kathy were still alive, she'd be signing up, too. In fact, almost everyone that makes it to 75 enlists, largely due to the rumors that the Colonial Defense Force have some way to make you young again. And who would turn down a shot at being young again, or at least going out in glory, defending the planet you've called home for many years.
John Scalzi's Old Man's War is reminiscent of Starship Troopers with a little Ender's Game thrown in. Humanity has advanced in a lot of ways, from technology that allows interstellar travel to mysterious sciences that augment the aged human body. And while mankind still wars with themselves on Earth, largely the greater threats come from other species among the stars. These are the enemies the CDF fights, year after year, as humanity seeks to colonize other planets and survive the harsh battles of space.
Told in a reflective, first-person narrative, there's no doubt that John Perry survives through the end of the book. While I'm not a *huge* fan of this style (I feel it takes away a lot of tension), it nevertheless worked well with this novel. I felt like I was listening to an old veteran tell his story of how he came to be where he is now, and what a story it was.
Perry is a likable character, from his quick wit to his deadpan humor, but its his love for his deceased wife that really shines. And perhaps this is what sets Old Man's War apart from other military sci-fi novels (of which I have read few). Perry's a widower that misses his wife. Sure, he's brazened and foul-mouthed, just like the rest of the soldiers, but he's also undoubtedly a romantic. I found this delightful and sweet, and completely understandable. After all, the two were married for many, many years. It's no wonder he misses her.
Old Man's War is by no means a romance novel, though. It's light, science-fiction with some exciting battles, fascinating technology, and interesting other-worldly creatures. The Consu, in particularly, were very cool. Because this is a military-type book, there's plenty of colorful language and other adult activities galore, but nowhere as jarring as it could've been, and certainly not as "wordy" as Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.
I quite enjoyed Scalzi's debut novel. It was fast-paced and thrilling, and there weren't any dull moments to be found in the relatively short book. Yes, people died (sometimes graphically), people cussed, people sexed it up, and engaged in other vices as well, but that's to be expected in a military setting. What was unexpected was how much fun I had reading this book. Old Man's War has a few sequels, but its contained enough that this single volume leaves few (I can't really think of any, but to be safe) questions unanswered.
If you're wanting to read an acclaimed, heavily-decorated and lauded science-fiction novel that defies some of your expectations, check out John Scalzi's Old Man's War. It's a quick, fun read that deserves the praise its received.