Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

“I didn’t mind getting old when I was young, either,” I said. “It’s the being old now that’s getting to me.” (p 13)

So, I finally broke down and read Old Man’s War. I honestly have no idea why it took me so long. I love Scalzi; I read his blog daily and I’ve both read his latest novel Redshirts and listened to Wil Wheaton read it (roughly a month apart – it’s so good, it bears repeating). His sense of humor completely resonates with me, and his political posts are some of the best I’ve read.

For some reason though, I had been holding out on entering the universe he created with this novel. I had the idea that it wasn’t for me – that my geek card was missing the stamp necessary to gain entry into his world. As it turns out, and I’m not sure how many times I’m going to have to learn this lesson, books are for anyone who chooses to read them – no application required.

I do suspect, however, that part of what was off-putting to me was the title. It’s a great title, and it’s perfectly suited for the book, but as I am not old (well, except to the high schoolers I work with), a man, nor a soldier, it created something of chasm between me and a wonderful read. Those three words – I looked at them and I imagined a novel my grandfathers would like to read. Both were veterans of WWII, and both were defined, each in his own way, by the experience. They were neither greater nor lesser men than my father or brother, who never enlisted, but they were certainly different. I could never quite touch the stories they shared with me about war. It was an experience that set them apart, and when I spent time with them while I was growing up, their personal histories were further shrouded by the decades between us.

“Lady and gentleman,” Harry said, looking at the both of us, “we may think we have some idea of what we’re getting into, but I don’t think we have the first clue. This beanstalk exists to tell us that much. It’s bigger and stranger than we can imagine – and it’s just the first part of this journey. What comes next is going to be even bigger and stranger. Prepare yourself as best you can.”

“How dramatic,” Jesse said dryly. “I don’t know how to prepare myself after a statement like that.”

“I do,” I said, and scooted over to get out of the booth. “I’m going to go pee. If the universe is bigger and stranger than I can imagine, it’s best to meet it with an empty bladder.”

“Spoken like a true Boy Scout,” Harry said.

“A Boy Scout wouldn’t need to pee as much as I do,” I said.

“Sure he would,” Harry said. “Just give him sixty years.” (pg 29)

After reading this book, the only thing I knew for certain (besides that I loved it and immediately needed to read the sequel) was that I wouldn’t mind living in Scalzi’s universe when I turn 75. I hate the idea of being a soldier now, but it turns out that reading about the human body slowly deteriorating, as it naturally does as we age, invokes in me an unshakable fear of death. It turns out I’m actually inclined to see the wisdom in enlisting in a mythical army with the power to turn me into a young, powerful fighting machine when I have lived nearly eighty years, even if it means doing things that are abhorrent to consider now. I’m not sure what that says about me – probably nothing good – but it’s the truth.

It’s one thing to think you want to be young again; it’s quite another thing to turn your back on everything you’ve ever known, everyone you’ve ever met or loved, and every experience you’ve ever had over the span of seven and a half decades. It’s a hell of a thing to say good-bye to your whole life. (p 11)

I can’t imagine saying goodbye to my whole life right, but that’s because my body (mostly) does what I ask of it. And my family and friends are (mostly) still alive. If I lived long enough to be given the choice offered in this novel – to say goodbye to Earth and give myself over to a science and military I cannot fathom – it might not be so terrible. Or maybe it would. I can’t really know for sure, but a part of me loves the idea that an adventure is waiting as life draws to a close. As much as I love predictability and my routines (and I really do), I’m also drawn to life’s mystery doors, and what this novel suggests is like Narnia for the elderly. Without the magic, of course (unless, like me, you consider science to be magic). And with a lot more death, and sex, and space ships.

Look, you: When you’re twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five or even fifty-five, you can still feel good about your chances to take on the world. When you’re sixty-five and your body is looking down the road at imminent physical ruin, these mysterious “medical, surgical and therapeutic regimens and procedures” begin to sound interesting. Then you’re seventy-five, friends are dead, and you’ve replaced at least one major organ; you have to pee four times a night, and you can’t go up a flight of stairs without being a little winded – and you’re told you’re in pretty good shape for your age.

Trading that in for a decade of fresh life in a combat zone begins to look like a hell of a bargain. (p 9)


Need more Scalzi? Head here.

4 thoughts on “Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

  1. I’ve been wavering on reading this. Like you, I’m a huge fan of his blog / political posts. I enjoyed Redshirts as well, especially the introduction. This is a good nudge to actually pick up the book.
    Have you/will you check out the other books in the series?

    1. I highly recommend Old Man’s War if you already know and like Scalzi. While it’s obvious that he wrote it awhile ago (his style has changed somewhat, as one would expect), it was a beautiful concept, and well executed.

      I have the second one and have picked it up a few times but ultimately haven’t been in the right mood. I suspect I’ll read it sometime in the next few months though, so we’ll see how it holds up!

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