Old Man's War

by John Scalzi

Review by Ann Cecil

What if, when you were 75, getting creaky and feeling your body deteriorate while your brain was still lively and aware, you had a chance to trade in the old one and get a brand-new, slightly improved model (body)? What would you give for the chance to live a second lifetime, still retaining all the wisdom you've so painfully gathered? Would the prospect of having to serve in combat for a period (between 2 and 10 years) deter you? Would you even question the ethics of the combat? How much would you question?

John Scalzi's first novel is a exploration of precisely this situation. He describes a future where Earth is a backwater, struggling to recover from ecologic exploitation. Those who went into space have somehow become independent, incorporated as the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). They offer the citizens of Earth chances to become colonists, or to become re-embodied warriors, depending on the country of origin.

The USA is still a prosperous, industrialized nation; our citizens are offered the re-embodied warrior option. Widower John Perry, on his 75th birthday, signs up, and the book is about his adventures after that choice. John is very much a Heinlein-style hero, in the laid back tradition; he keeps his head when others about him are blowing it. He uses a lot of common sense and applies all that accumulated wisdom to stay alive.

Of course he gets rewarded, and with only a slight stretching of luck and coincidence, actually winds up seeing his most treasured dream starting to come true. To get there, he has to last through some horrific encounters; however, in Heinlein style, the gore is kept to a minimum level and the emphasis is on the weird aliens being fought and the wild action being survived.

Those questions raised above also come up, but are treated pretty much in a cursory fashion. This is an action-packed entertainment, not an in-depth study of aging. The author credits Heinlein for much of his inspiration and as his writing role model. The book is enjoyable and succeeds in 'staying with you,' perhaps more so because it leaves unanswered questions echoing in the back of your mind. Recommended.

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