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Old Man's War    by John Scalzi order for
Old Man's War
by John Scalzi
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Think of the movie Coccoon, morphing into Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, and you'll have an idea of what Old Man's War is all about. John Scalzi's highly entertaining septuagenarian romp through a violent multiverse begins 'I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army', the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF), that is.

The narrator is former ad copywriter John Perry, whose main claim to fame was the 'Willie Wheelie' campaign, whose slogan was 'Sometimes You Just Gotta Hit the Road'. Once he signs up and leaves Earth, the fun begins. The first part - after the transfer to a genetically engineered, young, incredibly fit clone - is reminiscent of Coccoon. The self-styled 'Old Farts' have great fun re-discovering the joy of sex and bladder control, amongst other long forgotten skills. Then they learn the odds of surviving the service period they've signed up for - not good, but neither were the odds in their previous, well-aged bodies.

Next comes Starship Troopers re-visited - the same but not the same at all. Yes, they have to fight all sorts of incomprehensible alien critters, from the traditional bug-eyed monsters to even more horrific deer-like aliens, for human real estate. But, against this familiar backdrop of interplanetary war in which humans drop like flies, the storyline is new and the characterization unique. Though Perry adapts well to battle and rises through the ranks, he still misses his wife of four decades, and he suffers a crisis of conscience about the killing that he does so well. Fortunately, he gets over it, as it's not conducive to survival.

There's a very satisfying twist to this tale late in the novel, when 'Realborn' John Perry gets involved with the CDF 'Ghost Brigades'. Robert Heinlein, whom Scalzi acknowledges at the back of the book, would have enjoyed it very much - and I can give this author no higher compliment, except to say that I hope to read more from him soon.

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