Review: Old Man's War

51964Title: Old Man's War
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science fiction, adult fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
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. 

Everyone who has watched a military science fiction movie or read a space opera book knows the drill: young man joins the war effort, is surprised by the secret technologies the military has kept from the rest of the world, makes friends and enemies, loses friends and enemies on the battlefield, kills someone and feels terrible, falls in love, makes an unlikely stand to save the day.

Old Man's War doesn't exactly follow the drill.

Instead of an enthusiastic young man who wants to join the war effort, a la Captain America, our main character is an old man who has lived a long and fulfilling life. The only reason he's joining is because he and his wife signed up years ago, and now that his wife is dead, he doesn't have anything left on earth worth holding onto. The premise of the recruitment process is that you are legally dead on earth, and take on an entirely new identity as part of a super secret special ops force to save the colonized universe from alien invasions.

Taking on a new identity really takes on an unexpectedly hefty new meaning in this novel, and it was intriguing to see how the book played with the contrast between an old, contemplative mind and a powerful young body. There are a lot of other things to think about as well: when you love someone, will you still feel connected to them after they die? How do you deal with necessary losses and collateral damage? How much of what makes someone a hero is their skill, and how much is just luck?

I really enjoyed this unexpectedly thoughtful take on the classic space opera trope. I definitely recommend it!

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