Ron's Reviews > Old Man's War

Old Man's War by John Scalzi
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's review
Nov 20, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: science-fiction, fantasy
Read in November, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Oh, yeah! This is what it's all about.

This is great fiction, and great science fiction.

Read this book.

Perhaps I should explain why I call this fantasy as well as science fiction. Unlike many other readers, I deem the presence of aliens in a story as as much a sign of fantasy as magic. I understand that the probability there might be life, intelligence and superior science and technology in this galaxy--let alone the rest of the universe--approaches unity, but . . . for us to populate our science fiction with them is as much a work of imagination as to create stories with dwarfs, elves, hobbits, etc. I'm certain many of you will object. Sorry, that's how I see it.

Scvalzi's political correctness intrudes on his otherwise excellent story. Beyond the mandatory fawning demanded by our age, he fails to even give passing mention to physiological differences between the sexes--critical considerations for infantry. In fact, when the "Old Farts" get their new bodies, his (and their) attention is fixated on their physical beauty and condition without mentioning that the females' enhancements might have been turned up a notch to compensate for their natural smaller size. It doesn't hurt the story especially, but it is noticeable. And will surely mark this story in time just as the misogynic attitudes of nineteenth century novels date them.

His portrayal of military life is spot on except for two omissions. First, all battles are "at a distance." Everything is surgical and arm's length. The most intense kind of combat is hand-to-hand: confused, frightening and messy. He reports on melees, but none ever happen on stage. Even John's crash landing seems too analytical and not emotional. Second, his "only need two hours of sleep" rule does not do away with the second feature of long engagements: being tired. Even if their green skin and super blood keeps them ready to go, sleep deprivation has psychological implications, which are not mentioned.

(There was a third aspect which knocked me out of the story, but I kept reading rather than making a note. Sorry.)

Don't let these quibbles dissuade you from reading Old Man's War.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon No fair! :P

Where did you get a copy? Did Wendell have one?

message 2: by Ron (last edited Nov 25, 2008 05:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ron No fair? Why?

At the library.

message 3: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Fine. Be that way. :P

I guess I'll get mine from there as well. :)

message 4: by Werner (new)

Werner For me (and probably other readers as well) the basic distinction between science fiction and fantasy is that the former grounds itself strictly in the realm of the natural. It's no less a speculative, imaginative genre than the other; its premises may be completely implausible and unrealistic (and if Einstein was correct in believing that faster-than-light travel is impossible, than any contact between humans and aliens qualifies as implausible and unrealistic!). But even those kinds of premises can be --and are, in science fiction-- explained in naturalistic terms that at least masquerade as science (or pseudo-science). For purposes of analytical comparison and contrast, I think that can be a conceptually useful distinction. Even so, of course, a lot of us like both genres just because of the speculative element they have in common, and there are certainly works that cross the two, so they're not polar opposites!

message 5: by Ron (last edited Nov 27, 2008 03:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ron I totally agree. I read and enjoy both. That I prefer fantasy that has--and follows--rules, however outlandish or implausible, betrays my preference for science fiction. On the other hand, supposed science fiction which inserts aliens as mere plot devices earns my rating as mere fantasy. And SF with any aliens must, in my mind, be qualified as overlapping the genres.

As you suggest, faster-than-light-travel, artificial gravity, teleporters and the like smell like fantasy, too. But the last hundred years have indicated that some supposedly hard science fiction erred to the conservative side. A "matchbox"-sized computer seemed fantasy in the fifties, but smaller devices reside all around us today.

Ben  Davis A teacher once told me "spaceships and aliens don't qualify a book as science fiction." I've read The Ghost Brigades and as far as I'm concerned it's fantasy. Just to be clear, Dune is fantasy, Star Wars is fantasy, Star fantasy, Outlander is science fiction, Silent Running is science fiction, Starship Troopers (the book) is science fiction. Are there are differences between the two? Yes!
What about John Scalzi in the Ghost Brigades? No sir! He breaks rules (not always a bad thing mind you) and if you read my review of the novel I also point out that he doesn't apply logic either. Mind transfer is too wild, it's too irrational. In other words NO BASIS IN REALITY. As far I'm concerned that's enough to make it fantasy. Which is not to say that fantasy is bad. After all Star Wars and Star Trek are totally awesome and fantasy describes them perfectly.

message 7: by Ron (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ron I agree that total mind transfers are beyond anything that we can currently perform, and may be beyond what we can ever achieve, but I suspect that it will be tried--with horrific results--within a hundred years.

Given how little we really understand about gravity, I suspect mind transfers will preceed artificial gravity (other than those produced by simulation: centrigul force). I certainly could see a partial mind trnsfer between cloned bodies as more probably than inserting human consciousness into a body of another specie Ala Avatar.

Ben  Davis I can only imagine how that inter-species mind transfer will go. I think I'd pass on that opportunity or any that involved mind transfer.

message 9: by Ron (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ron No argument from me. ;-)

message 10: by Ron (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ron Based on Robert Silverberg's assertion that all science fiction as a subset of fantasy, I may need to revise my thinking. I'm part way through his Science Fiction 101. When I finish, I'll probably express my thoughts in reviewing that book.

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