I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.
As first liners go this is one is a good one. Old Man’s War is an absolute brilliant book by my favorite author John Scalzi. John Perry, the protagonist is a cynical but friendly old man. He loves his dead wife Kathy very much and remembers her with warmth and affection, but also at times with resentment for leaving him behind. She suddenly died from a brain aneurysm eight years ago. They had enrolled in the Colonial Defence Force (CDF) together before she died, planing a life together among stars they knew very little about. John still have no idea of what to expect, except that they have some way to make him young again.
So on his 75 birthday he travels to CDF’s recruitment office. The young recruiter confirms that he signs up for two years with an option for CDF to extend it to ten. John takes a leap of faith and signs, becoming legally dead if he stays on earth. Once you leave earth you can never go back. The official reason is to protect earth against alien diseases.
John Scalzi paints a humorus if somewhat cynical picture of being old.
Perry travels to orbit via the Beanstalk, a feat of colonial engineering no one on earth can duplicate. As Harry, another recruit he meets there theorises, the beanstalk isn’t the most economical or easiest way to get to orbit, it is rather the hardest most expensive way to get there, it is a message to the governments on earth. Unless you can duplicate this, you have nothing to do among the stars.
They are herded trough Colonial Station to their ride the starship CDFS Henry Hudson, where they somewhat surreal are served coffee and donuts. Not the usual military welcome.
During the following two days they go trough tests of various kinds. First they get a physical and their brains are implanted with a sensor array. They test language, math, make them angry, awnser questions from to a naked sexy woman/man etc. Perry resents being treated as a preschooler. During that time he bonds with a group of other recruits and they name themselves ‘The Old Farts’, they becomes his substitute family.
After two days they skip to the Phoenix system where they will load supplies before going to Beta Pyxis III for basic training. The enormous space station and the hundreds of ships around it makes them realise what a backwater earth have become.
The long awaited ‘concluding physical improvment’ that will enable them to fight in CDF takes place, more later.
The characterisation is exquisite and this is one of John Scalzi’s greatest strengths, you can identify with the characters, what motivates them, in fact at times it felt like my consciousness was transferred into the main character. John also do cynical old man very well, even if he is young man himself.
The world is also well though out and coherent. Earth is kept a backwater by the Colonial Union to be used for soldiers and colonists. The developed countries supply educated experienced soldier at an age of 75, the under developed countries supply colonists of any age.
It is a beautiful story with a moral. The characters John and his group are easy to love. World building, descriptions etc is inserted in a clever way. No massive infodumps here. There is also a number wow moments in the story.
Our protagonist John Perry get to experience revelation after revelation about the CDF and Earth. If you are a first time reader, you should enjoy it too. If you read on, you will learn too much, and it might spoil part of the enjoyment. You have been warned. Spoiler alert!