Have you filled out your Mars-One application yet? In ten years they’re sending four people to Mars on a one-way trip, and after that a new group will arrive every two years. They’ll train for ten years before leaving and never return to Earth. I really hope we get wined and dined before they send us away.
Can you imagine? John Scalzi already has. Not unlike Ray Bradbury, who didn’t have to wait long to see many of his fictions become reality, Scalzi’s first published novel is spilling into life as we know it. Kind of. Maybe he borrowed Margaret Atwood’s time machine. After reading The Year of the Flood, I suspected she had one but couldn’t confirm it until today when I spotted her circa 1983 walking in the west village. And that is indisputable evidence that she either has a time machine or a doppelganger maker that’s inaccurate by a few decades.
Wherever the story idea came from, it resulted in a book I didn’t want to end. I had to hide Old Man’s War under my pillow with a strongly worded post-it note to keep a certain someone from swiping it before I finished.
On his 75th birthday, John Perry visits his wife’s grave one last time before reporting for duty. The recruitment office is local, but the Colonial Defense Forces operates entirely off planet, and no soldier ever returns. If he’s still alive after serving he’ll be given a home and land on some planet to live the remainder of his life. That’s the deal he signed up for.
During the departure, leaving everyone and everything he has ever known and loved behind, John’s knew friend and fellow geriatric notes,
There was nothing left to do there, but get old and die.
Anyone can join the CDF, but only when they turn 75. No older. No younger. As none of the colonists or recruits are ever allowed to return, John and friends have no idea what lies in store. Some suspect their old bodies will get a few nips and tucks before going off to battle hostile alien species, but the overhaul they get is something you just have to read.
The transport ship exits The Milky Way en route to boot camp, and all recruits are ordered to spend their last free week enjoying their physical upgrades before they find out what their bodies are really capable of. The seventy-five year olds aboard have basically been given a second life and what do you think is the first thing they want to do?
All soldiers are infantry for their first two years. They get to specialize after that if they don’t die, but most aliens are fierce fighters so odds are against them. Scalzi takes us into a few battles, each their own epic moving train.
…the advantage soldiers have on Earth is that they know who their opponents are going to be,…, how the battle will be conducted – with what sort of troops, types of weapons, and range of goals.
John Perry turns out to be quite the strategic thinker and intuitive soldier in the heat of battle, but nothing could’ve prepared him for the violent technologies applied without remorse. What really hits him in the gut is an encounter with the Ghost Brigades, a twist that gives this whole series potentially limitless depth.
I expected to like this book, but I loved every bit of it from the pacing to the tactile descriptions that make it all seem so real. And how can you not love a book with characters named Gaiman, McKean, Tagore and Sagan? Scalzi makes it look so easy. He writes like he’s having a good time and that kind of energy makes you want to drink this story like it’s a jug of cheap, delicious wine.
Old Man’s War is the first in a so far five-book series with the fifth coming out this year. The Ghost Brigades is next and I can’t wait to get my dirty hands on it. In the mean time, do you think we’ll get pillows on Mars or will we just float around in our sleep? Zero gravity could be very dangerous for sleepwalkers, or the cure we’ve all been waiting for.