John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War has everything I want out of science fiction: space battles, politics, religion, cosmologies to make you think about your own preconceptions, and heart. If you aren’t familiar with this modern classic, OMW centers around John Perry, an old man nearing the end of his life. In the OMW world, once you hit a ripe old age you can enlist in the space marines. You are legally dead once you enlist, and you never come back to Earth. You say your goodbyes and head on up into space, and no one on Earth quite knows what happens next (I won’t spoil it).
The title “Old Man’s War” of course has to do with the space marine role that Earth’s elderly have to take on, but it also relates to Scalzi’s meditations on the fight against death and disappointment and loneliness that we all inevitably face. While John Perry is quite quippy, his flippancy is tolerable because the character often thinks and speaks with the weight of 75 years of life experience under-girding his attitude. While the story is a lot of fun, I equally enjoyed Scalzi’s take on life. One of my favorite passages:
I hate that I’ve become one of those old men who visits a cemetery to be with his dead wife. When I was (much) younger I used to ask Kathy what the point would be. A pile of rotting meat and bones that used to be a person isn’t a person anymore; it’s just a pile of rotting meat and bones. The person is gone—off to heaven or hell or wherever or nowhere. You might as well visit a side of beef. When you get older you realize this is still the case. You just don’t care. It’s what you have.
This book earned five stars. If anyone has read the sequels, I’m interested to know your opinion on them.