Denise's Reviews > Old Man's War

Old Man's War by John Scalzi
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May 10, 07

bookshelves: sf
Recommended for: Any SF reader
Read in May, 2007

I picked this one up intending to read a few chapters before bed tonight, and now it's two in the morning and I've finished it, which should tell you something about it. I'm valiantly resisting starting the sequel, which I also bought tonight.

The cover quote on this one compares Scalzi to Heinlein, which is both accurate and inaccurate: this is the book Starship Troopers would have been if it had been written fifty years later, with the intervening fifty years' worth of political and social developments. It's an incredibly mature story for a first novel, and I'm damn impressed: thematically, there's a level of complexity and depth there that tells me I'm going to have to reread to tease some additional layers out of it.

He had me from the first paragraph (I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.) The art of the opening has been diminshed in sf these days; too many authors hit you with all the front-loaded exposition right damn there, but Scalzi takes us through a leisurely few pages of getting to know his protagonist, his life, his ideals, etc, before dropping him in a world that's utterly alien. It works to great effect, because it's the same journey the protag's going through: he's becoming something else, something other, and the transformation is all the more powerful for seeing it through his eyes and experiencing it with him.

I'm not much for first-person narrative, as a rule, but this one really worked for me. The prose is simple and clean, but layered with depth and meaning; in a lot of ways, it reads as very transparent, where the words themselves don't get in the way of the concepts they're conveying. I can definitely see why Scalzi won the '06 Campbell, and I'm looking forward to devouring everything he's written since. (He is also, which makes me highly kindly disposed to him, a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant. Bonus props to you, sir.)
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Anita I also liked the way he introduced the main character. Too many writers treat their readers as though they were footballs: Something to be snatched up at first contact and then carried to the opposite end of the field before being dropped at the end of the story.


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