Old Man's War (2005)
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction (Storyteller Focus)
Like many senior citizens, John Perry signed a promissory note stating that he would join the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) on his 75th birthday, provided he live that long. And on the day he turned 75, his visited the grave of his wife, who died before she could live up to her own promise, signed up fully with the CDF and began a journey that would take him away from earth forever. Along the way Perry makes friends with a group of senior citizens who, for their own various reasons, have also decided to live another life in service to the CDF. The thing that they all seem to share is the desire to be young again, and to continue to provide for humanity. While they would have simply died on Earth, the CDF can give them back their youth and they can fight humanity’s wars on the galactic front. None of the group are quite sure how they will be made young again, as the CDF closely guards its technological secrets. After a few days of tests that range from weird to strangely basic, Perry's mind is "transferred" to his new body. A combination of nanotechnology, DNA modifications, and his own genetics, this body is vastly superior to that of a normal human. It also comes with an on-board computer through which vast amounts of information can be accessed. After this, Perry goes on to basic training, where he learns to fight the various threats to human expansion and colonization. Then Perry is sent out into the universe to fight, winning a number of encounters, experiencing the deaths of a few friends, and becoming a seasoned soldier.Spoiler: During a routine attack on a planet being occupied by one of the enemy alien races, the Rraery, something goes terribly wrong and all the ships in the attack force are brought down. By a twist of luck Perry manages to survive the crash of his own vessel and is rescued by the crew of a Special Forces vehicle. These highly secretive Special Forces, known as the Ghost Brigades, include a member who looks just like Perry's dead wife. It turns out that death before 75 simply means you won't live on, but, if you signed with the CDF, your DNA most certainly will.
Geographical Setting: Earth, the Milky Way and eventually multiple other galaxies and alien planets.
Time Period: The Future
Series: First in the Old Man's War series.
Scalzi's writing is descriptive but interesting enough to keep the pace going fairly quickly. The tone is serious, but there are plenty of lighthearted and humorous moments throughout. The main character, John Perry, is well-rounded and realistic, having concerns that the reader can relate to, despite the very foreign aspects of his life. It's interesting to follow Perry's development as a military officer and a person. Futuristic physics, nanotechnology and biology play large parts in the book. There are plenty of military scenes, descriptions of alien planets and colonization and fast-paced military fights which are all a must in this sort of setting. Some mysteries and conspiracies are included, like why the CDF is so secretive and where they got their technology. Old Man's War also raises many moral questions such as what one might go through to avoid death, how ethical war is compared to the alternative, is the transhumanist movement really going to be beneficial to society, is cloning the best way to create soldiers and what exactly defines a person.
Read-alikes: For readers who enjoy humans fighting in alien wars over colonies, with a focus on military training and and looking for a classic, The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, would be a great book to visit. Along that vein, one might also like to read Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein . Starship Troopers also revolves around a main character who uses advanced technology (powered armor) to fight off the enemy and rises among the ranks in the Mobile Infantry. Similar moral questions about war are brought up in this novel. Entering Tenebrea, by Roxann Dawson, is yet another novel following the theme of saying goodbye to an old life and Earth to fight aliens. Following the story of Andrea Flores, this story addresses the problems technology can bring about, as well as what one can do to protect humanity. If you would like to read more about what it means to be human, cloning and the moral ramifications thereof in both normal society and on the warfront you might try Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. Much like Old Man's War people's minds are transferred to new bodies. This technology allows for near immortality and the transfer of highly trained people into bodies waiting to fight on the interstellar warfront. Altered Carbon also involves a good bit of mystery as the main character tries to solve the death of a client. Someone with more interest in transhumanism, nanotechnology and conspiracy might find Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson interesting. This novel involves a future society in which everything is run by corporations and people lead dual lives, one in the real world and one in the Internet's predecessor, the Metaverse.
Red Flags: Sex, violence, death, some racism, foul language.