This is the fifth book in the Old Man’s War series, which takes place in a Star Trek-like future where humans have colonized space, and are warring with other alien races for territory. It’s generally been a great read, and I highly recommend the series to any fan of science fiction.
But…something happened on the way to book 4. Scalzi double dipped into the plot of book 3, and just retold the story from a different perspective. Maybe some don’t mind re-reading a story so soon, but it’s not my cup of tea. This book basically gets the series back on track, but only up to a point.
The characters are as enjoyable and engaging as ever, and there are some really interesting moments here, but this doesn’t really come together as a book. Scalzi wrote serialized chapters that were then tied together as a single work (think Stephen King’s The Green Mile), but there isn’t much of a cohesive story. On top of that, the book just kind of…finishes. There’s no coherent plot to tie all the chapters together, really. They’re loosely affiliated, and generally serve as a follow-up to The Last Colony / Zoe’s Tale. When it ended, however, I was just kind of left wondering what happened to the rest of the book.
As a writer, Scalzi is top notch. He writes great dialogue, creates very likable characters, and a believable and layered world. But for all the likability of his characters, they are a bit flat. They’re all charming rogues, with sarcastic good humor and a stolid capability. And it’s a lot of fun spending time with a character like that. It’s very easy going and enjoyable. But everyone is like that. There’s not much variation, which makes me wonder if that’s the only kind of person Scalzi can create.
Also, with all the characters being fairly likable, there isn’t much room for villainy. I don’t need a black and white world, but, there’s no one to root against. I’ve always found that to be one of the charms of genre fiction. The antagonist doesn’t need to be an unrepentant bad guy (I generally don’t like that), but it gives a layer to a story that you don’t really notice until it’s absent. The aliens here are more Klingons from Deep Space Nine rather than the Original Series: maybe not your strongest ally, but a culture with depth that you can respect.
If there is a villain in these books its bureaucracy of the human variety. I say this entirely recognizing that it may be Scalzi’s point, but it still leaves me a little disappointed.
Even though my issues with this series are starting to ripen, I still highly recommend it to all lovers of science fiction.