The widower in the sky


old man's war

I did two things, on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.

I received Old Man’s War as a gift from a fellow “beggar blogger” some months ago. I waited a lot before reading it, and when I started Mr. Scalzi’s novel I finished it in a couple of days.
That’s how much entertaining and riveting Old Man’s War is.
In 351 pages, the novel tells the story of John Parry and his voyage from being a 75 years old widower on Earth to being a soldier in the Colonial Defense Forces, battling alien species among the stars and on distant planets, for the sake of milions of human colonists.

The transformation from “old fart” to perfectly fit soldier is, in the end, not the strangest or most exciting thing to happen in John’s life, but I will not indulge in spoilers, because this book is worth reading and discovery on your own.

What is great, turning points and surprises apart, is the ability of the author in weaving a story full of interesting characters that are believable, distinct, strong, easy to empathise with.

When the group of 1022 recruits John is part of is lectured about the survival ratio of CDF soldiers, you know some of the friends John made on the road to the training facilities will have to die. If within 10 years 75% of the recruits will be dead, it’s only logical to expect death and mayhem among his new-found friends. And Scalzi does nothing to play cozy in that field. As Holly Lisle says, “Hell hath no fury like a writer on a roll”; and Scalzi knows how to deliver shivers of horror and piety without overindulging in the gore-department.

The zealots of “show, don’t tell” would probably have something negative to say about it, but that’s bullshit: Scalzi succeeds in creepping you out just telling the right bits and snippets to evocate a deadly universe in which humans can be targets, sinners to redeem in order to make them enter a superior state of being, or just delicious food to enjoy. In which the CDF are outnumbered and sometimes have to fight other humans.

In the end it, what Old Man’s War depict is a lighter univers than one can think, because it’s a universe in which a man can find a new place and purpose even when old, in which there are plenty of threats, but also plenty of possibilities.

Debtor towards Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers”, this novel is nonetheless a strong tale of its own, able to support itself and devoid of those chunks of lecture that could make “Starship Troopers” a less pleasant reading. Here everything has a purpose, everything is used with the economy of the story in mind.

If you’re an emotional reader, you’ll laugh (the first encounters with of computer personal assistants are great!), you’ll love some characters, you’ll deeply despise others, you’ll mourn every loss, you’ll find yourself unable to put the book down if there’s even only a hint of strong action going on (and that’s pretty much all the time), you’ll feel the melancholia of a man who is going to loose his stars, you’ll smirk reading some well known last names.

It’s going to be a fun reading, so hop on it and enjoy it. The stars await you.

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