A review by schnaucl
Old Man's War by John Scalzi

adventurous funny fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


sI really liked it.  I liked John and Alan. 
SpoilerI did think John felt a little too perfect though.  The drill instructor can't find something he doesn't like about just him, he always comes up with the brilliant solutions and saves the day.  But it was an early novel, so whatever. 

I do wonder if some of it is a product of its time.  I think today there would be a  much more visceral negative reaction to having a virtual assistant put into your brain without informed consent.   No one seems to have any of the privacy concerns I would have expected.  Are their thoughts still private?  Especially by the time the AI no longer needs words (spoken or not) to take instructions.   John doesn't seem at all bothered by the fact that apparently his new body can just be turned off.  (And what's to stop an enemy from discovering how to do that and then just taking out all of the CDF? 

I also think there must have been a lot of body dysmorphia and existential crises happening.  Even a better looking you is a different you than you see in the mirror every day to say nothing of the fact that you're now green with different eyes.   That's also going to mess with people's identities.   The drill instructor points out that there are no minorities now, but being part of the majority or minority is going to shape a person over the course of their 75 years (and the drill instructor does mention breaking 75 years of various mental conditioning, but that's about it).  Similarly, I'm not 75 and I understand that as the body starts to fail there would probably be some joy in having a new, vastly improved working body, but I have to think there would also be a profound existential crisis for a lot of people who were transferred without much warning and their old bodies presumably destroyed.   There is a line that there's a religious figure for many religions onboard, but at least no on in John's group seems the least bit bothered.  Nobody wonders about the nature of the soul, or if they're just a software program now, or they've committed a gross violation of their religion.

There's also no discussion of whether someone who was transgender was put into the body of the same sex they were born with or if their new body matches his/her/their gender.   This also came out in 2005, and while transgender people obviously existed long before 2005, I don't think there was as much awareness as there is now so that's not really a knock against Scalzi.

It was pretty clear where this was going once the nanoprobes were inserted and I thought the baseline tests were interesting.   I'm not sure what would cause me to get murderously angry, and I couldn't tell you anything about my seventh birthday (and that's without a naked person in the room).  And how's that for a job?

I'm also not really clear why Earth's fragility in the larger universe is being kept a secret, unless it's that they think no one would sign up for service if they knew.  (And there's no push back against that, either. People on Earth seem to think they'll likely be doing a two year tour and be done, but when it turns out that won't be the case no one seems to be bothered by it.   I kind of doubt they'd all be saying, well, I signed a contract so it's fine. 

I get that this would all radically shift the tone of the book Scalzi was writing and so that's probably why it wasn't really dealt with.

And while the CDF has gone after a couple of homeworlds, there's no suggestion that someone might do the same to Earth, which seems odd. 

There's also not a lot of grappling with the fact that we're  repeating our colonialist past (it's called the Colonial Defense Force, for gods sake). I suspect that might happen in later books.   

I'm curious if we will see John's theory about the Consu come to fruition in later books.

It's also interesting (and somewhat unlikely?) that we don't see much in the way of alliances with other aliens.  The enemy of my enemy etc, especially if you have several technologically weaker races.   

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

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