Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

Voted #1 on Tor's Best SFF Novels of the Decade poll. I had heard of it before, but when I was looking for books to catch me up with what's been going on in science fiction (I've been reading a lot of nonfiction) this became my shopping list.

It was a lighter and faster read than I expected. Quickly digestible. It doesn't skimp on the violent details, but I wouldn't call it gruesome. I also wouldn't call it hard SF, but it's not excessively soft either. Good balance, in other words.

From a writerly perspective, war from the standpoint of one grunt on the ground is difficult. It has to be a character-driven story, since as far as action goes the goals are simple and well defined and consistent across all war stories: survive and/or win. Here, the war is really just a distraction from the goal that even our first-person narrator isn't entirely aware he has until the third act. Nicely done.

I've read a little military SF, and I'm glad that this did not fall into the trope of the hero being the best soldier ever, suffering through the inadequacies of his comrades. It's also not married to imitating Napoleonic naval warfare, World War II  or any other era. The world building is substantial (since there are many and varied worlds) and impressive for a relatively short book.

I'm interested to see what he does with this universe in the rest of the series, and I hope to be reviewing them here too.

4 out of 5 weeblies

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