Old Man’s War by John Scalzi really got under my skin! The feeling of the book is Heinleinesque.There’s lots of nifty ideas and some wit in the voice of the hero, John Perry. The premise of giving old people one last chance to make their deaths serve humanity is interesting. But…
But the characters all feel similar. Despite the central premise of 75-year olds being reborn, and the corollary of newborns in adult bodies, everyone has about the emotional age of a bright 19-year old . Worse, the book doesn’t have Heinlein’s knack for describing technologies without hitting you over the head with exposition. There’s not one but two physicist/astronomer characters who exist merely to explain how things work. I was groaning, “Do we really have to?” when the book spent six pages on why the space elevator couldn’t work, and then tossed in a plot gem, that it meant the Colonial Union were withholding technology from mere Earthlings. A lot of scenes happen in mess halls, leading to lengthy conversations that go over every possible baby step in an argument.
The fact that the main character is also named John and (on Earth) lives in the same area of Ohio where the author lives, makes the whole book feel like one big Mary Sue. Especially since John Perry is cleverer than everyone around him and rises rapidly through the ranks and achieves too many singularities: The only recruit the central-casting drill sergeant doesn’t hate, the only man to come up with a good way to kill the only interesting aliens, the only survivor of a disastrous invasion, the only trueborn human to serve with the Special Forces.
For all my carping, there are bits I really like. For instance, early on the scene where John Perry’s consiousness is transfered is effective, the numerous technologies that go into his new body are interesting and the pamphlet that explains them is hilarious. The last third of the book is the best part. Most of the explaining and explaining is over with, when John thinks he has seen his dead wife, Kathy. He finds out this woman is really a clone and a member of the Special Forces called Jane Sagan. The thread of John’s longing for Kathy and his ultimate partnering with Jane was the emotional core of the book. The scene where Jane asks him for stories of Kathy are especially sweet.
In the end, I half hate and half like this book, which is probably why I can’t seem to stop talking about it. So I’m willing to see what the next adventures of John Perry and Jane Sagan are like.
Next: Okay, Here we go.