Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – Review

Cover- Old Mans War

Published: January 1, 2005

Publisher: Tor Books

Genre: Sci-Fi

Pages: 362 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0


John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

After seeing a fellow bloggers review of Old Man’s War, I decided to pick up the audiobook and give it a listen. I’m so glad I did because this book is a classic, and not the kind of classic that they make you read in high school English. It reminded me of the very first Halo novel, which told the origin of Master Chief, but with much more alien variety. Just imagine an army of 75 year old men and women defending human settlers from alien threats across the galaxy…

First of all, the interactions between John Perry and the rest of the Old Farts really made me love the beginning of this book- it kind of hooked me and didn’t let go from the very first chapter. I’ve mentioned before how much I love origin stories (and am a little biased toward first books) and Old Man’s War was just the freakin’ coolest!!! I mean, we get to follow a character through an experience they are completely unfamiliar and unknowledgeable about, so you’re really learning as the character does, which seems to breed a sense of empathy or familiarity for the character. John Perry gets to start a whole new life in a new world, with a brand new body that is far superior to anything he expected.

The only potential downside to the whole situation is that he has to join the Colonial Defense Force, which requires them to serve 2-10 years in service defending the colonies. Let’s face it, they always serve 10 years, unless they’re part of the 75% that get killed before their term of service is concluded. It’s a brutal universe out there, but fortunately John Perry is well-suited to battle and makes his way through the ranks. He even briefly serves with the mysterious Ghost Brigade and performs a maneuver that reminds me of the Iron Rain from Pierce Brown’s Golden Son. I’m wondering if perhaps that inspired the iconic rain of metal-clad Gold’s from the atmosphere of Mars.

There’s quite a lot of self-reflection that occurs throughout the novel which I liked. The characters all struggle with very real and human emotions, something that doesn’t always come across effectively in writing. I actually teared up a couple times, and laughed quite a few events that occurred. I’ll probably read more of Scalzi’s works in the future, and would welcome suggestions for any who’ve read his other novels. I typically prefer fantasy novels, but I’m finding that I enjoy Sci-Fi just as much and I think this is a classic!


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