Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book: John Scalzi's "Old Man's War"

Most of my sci-fi lately seems to be of the post-singularity type that seems to be in vogue lately. John Scalzi's "Old Man's War" is not. From the start "Old Man's War" has that old fashion Space Opera/Military Sci-Fi feel to it. The book had a quaint, comfortable feel to it reminding me of classic Star Trek and books like John Steakly's "Armor" and Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (Confession: I haven't read "Starship Troopers" but I did see the movie several times). I eased into this book like a pair of comfy slippers.

The story follows our hero, John Perry, as he joins the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) at age seventy-five. Scalzi has created an interesting and somewhat original take on the 'Universe is Hostile' philosophy though, like most military science fiction, he handles the problem in the standard way: Blow all the buggers up! Scalzi basically takes the competition for scarce resources emerging on our world and moves it out into the galaxy. Humanity has moved out into the void and found out that we are surrounded by greedy, hostile, and very hungry alien civilizations.

I liked this book but there are something that bothers me a bit. We learn that the CDF is not beyond genocide to further it's goals. Is this a bad thing? Yes. What if your survival as a people hinges on it? Uhh? Should we roll over and be wiped out? No, I guess not. Kind of like the torture debate raging around us today. Unfortunately Scalzi really doesn't argue the point - he assumes it's fine to bomb a whole civilization into the stone age. Doesn't even blink. Kind of reminds me of a certain ex-vice president. I wish he would have had a little more moral struggle in there and less gung ho, let's blast'em, rhetoric.

The book really felt like a throw back to the cold war times. Good is good. Evil is really evil. We can do no wrong. They do no right. It's probably my age but that really made me feel comfortable. I guiltily felt at home with the blast'em mentality. The moral certainty in the book felt so much better than the moral ambiguity that we are struggling with today. (I know, I'm remembering the cold war era with rose colored memories. Sorry.)

There are two more books in this trilogy. I'm looking forward to adding them to my reading list. There is more story there and I want to read it. A great first book from John Scalzi. Highly recommended.

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