As my first post, I want to talk about Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. I don’t generally have a lot of interest in Sci Fi books. I love Sci Fi tv shows, but I usually tend towards the Fantasy of Sci-Fi/Fantasy grouping. That said, I love Old Man’s War, and I don’t just want to talk about it because I loved it, the book has been out for a long time, lots of people love it. I want to talk about why I loved it.
I loved it as a former soldier. I was never a front lines, combat arms MOS soldier. I was, in a way, the army equivalent of a cleaning crew. Your truck blows up and I’m the asshole that has to drive out there and skull drag the mother fucker back to base. Still, through our protagonist of Perry (last name because it’s the damn military) it felt like being a soldier again. I miss being a soldier, and Perry’s decisions and motivations remind me a great deal of being a soldier. Being a soldier can be one of the dumbest, most frustrating and dehumanizing experiences on Earth, but it can also be one of the most enlightening. Much of the center of the story isn’t about Perry going through these things, it’s all in the background (and this is one of the situations where First Person fucking shines), but we see it because of how he starts talking about things. He also breaks, and I think all of us veterans had a point where we broke and our brothers and sisters showed us some solidarity and got us through it, and that’s exactly what happens.
It’s hard to explain just how excited this book makes me, but it gets it right. I have favorite books and TV shows that get the soldiers all wrong, and they’re good shows and it’s irritating, but generally ignorable and understandable. Even if you get a military person to advise the creators of a work, it’s hard experience to translate. It just is.
It’s refreshing to read something that gets it right. Even things concerned with the military often get the actual soldiering of it wrong. Works often seem to concern themselves with the weapons and the tactics and put character secondary, and that is a thing people enjoy, sure, but I read for character. I watch TV for character. Plots are the framework the characters are built around, sure, and good plots are satisfying (and Old Man’s War doesn’t disappoint), but they aren’t the point.
Even though it’s an old book and most people have probably read it, and almost certainly most people reading this, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the plot takes some time to reveal itself, but when it does it brings together everything else in the book.
Perry is our everyman hero, and he is a hero, but he’s not exceptional in anyway except that he makes good decisions. He’s a bit lucky, sure, but mostly he makes good decisions. That’s a quality not many protagonists have really. So many plots in books and movies are predicated around bad decisions, but Perry doesn’t, generally, make bad decisions. He also makes believable decisions. He doesn’t act on mysterious impulses, he isn’t smarter than the reader, he makes solid, predictable, absolutely average decisions. If anything, then, I suppose what makes him heroic is that he’s decisive. In the Army, at least in my experience, decisiveness was highly valued, and following Perry in his fictional military, you can see why. It’s not that he’s smarter than anyone, or acting on any more information, he just makes a decision. He jumps while everyone tries to figure out how jumping works. Only that draws too stark a contrast between him and the other characters, because there isn’t a lot of difference in temperament or ability.
This has been rambling, largely unedited, but I just finished the book and it has me excited. Books usually fascinate me, intrigue me, even make me feel like I’m going to burst trying not to talk about it, but Old Man’s War excites me.
I’m not a big Sci-Fi reader, as I mentioned above. It’s generally not my thing, and I certainly hate Military Sci-Fi because it almost always gets it wrong. Old Man’s War gets it right. Not just the Soldiering, but being Human, and being both.
Edit: For some reason the act of publishing borked my formatting.