Old Man's War

by John Scalzi
Series: Old Man's War 1
Reviewed date: 2013 Aug 27
Rating: 4
368 pages
cover art

Old Man's War is your basic boot-camp-to-battlefield-to-grizzled-veteran science fiction story, but it's an entertaining one. (It reminds me strongly of Starship Troopers and The Forever War, and just a tiny bit of Dave Wolverton's On My Way to Paradise.) The twist is that it's not a coming-of-age story: the recruits are 75-year-old men and women from Earth, who join the Colonial Defence Force (CDF) in exchange for rejuvenation. The one catch: after their term of service, they can settle in the colonies, but can never return to Earth.

Furthermore, nobody on Earth has ever met anyone from the CDF. All the local recruiting is contracted to local corporations. Recruits are sent up the beanstalk to Colonial Station, picked up by a passing CDF spaceship, and never return. CDF maintains a policy of complete information blackout on Earth. Nobody even knows precisely what enemy the CDF fights.

The information blackout is a great storytelling device (it makes the infodumps plausible--the CDF has to educate its recruits about humanity's true position in the galaxy.) But it doesn't make much sense--as far as I can tell, CDF recruits only from Earth (and actually, only from the United States--other nations get to send colonists, but Americans can only sign up for CDF service) and only Earth is kept deliberately ignorant. The rest of mankind knows exactly the situation: that humans are a small, outnumbered race in an unbelievably hostile galaxy, fighting for racial survival over each habitable or useful planet.

John is transfered to a new, enhanced body. He goes through basic training, makes some friends, ships out, fights aliens, watches his friends die, and manages to be the sole survivor of one completely botched invasion. That gets him noticed. It turns out the alien Rraey have a new trick: a device that lets them detect tachyons to predict precisely where skip drive spaceships will appear. This allows them to literally target enemy spaceships before they skip into the system. John is assigned as an advisor to the second invasion fleet--the fleet tasked with stealing the tachyon detection system.

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