Rating - 4: worth reading multiple times (buy it)
I somehow made it this far without having read Starship Troopers. I think I would have enjoyed this even more with that foundational bit of the literary dialogue.
Why be old any more? If you are seventy-five years old and live on Earth, you are eligible to join the Colonial Defense Forces and protect humanity in space. You will be restored to top fighting condition and enlisted in the battle against aliens that want to wipe out our species. Give yourself a new future while fighting for the future of the human race. Join today!
This is very good. Old Man's War has been one of the most favorably received science fiction books in recent years, and it still beat my expectations. If you, like me, enjoy reading a great book without knowing all about it beforehand, stop now and go get a copy of Old Man's War.
I described Spin as good, hard science fiction without spaceships, aliens, and laser beams. This is good, softer science fiction with spaceships, aliens, and laser beams. But they usually prefer rockets and bullets.
It takes something special to make a well-worn trope new and interesting. This has humans versus bug-eyed monsters. It plays the trope straight and explicitly inverts it, warning that any adherence to human tropes can get you killed out there. Then it engages in creative play with the ideas. It is both classic and new.
This is a war story and a human drama, in addition to being science fiction. Hence the title. Our protagonist is not the eternal adolescent, setting out on an epic quest where ultimately he finds himself and his way back home. There are heartfelt relationships, meaningful in a way that decades of life can imbue.
The dialogue early in the book troubled me because I had no reason to believe it accurate reflected 75-year-olds. Perhaps if I thought of them as loquacious, rather than sounding like hip twenty-somethings on network TV. Some of the phrasings were almost Whedonesque, which is normally a compliment, but it felt out of place. Maybe adults calcify into patterns early, but I look at how I thought half my life ago, and I cannot imagine thinking the same way at twice my current age, and I still need the first half again to take me to their age. Perhaps I will dwell on "loquacious." "Chatty." Perhaps I need to spend more time with the vibrant elderly.
I expected there to be more significance to using the rejuvenated elderly. There are reasons stated why one might want decades of experience. But in the infantry? Characters repeatedly explain why this is a bad idea, and these septuagenarians still manage to be the Cocky Kid. A much better case is made for soldiers who do not have decades of inhibitions.
There are some improbable coincidences that I might question in another book, but they work here. You can have a book where the protagonist is replaced frequently, but it is more economical to follow the guy who lives for at least a while and finds himself surviving interesting adventures. Given several technologies mentioned throughout the book, our protagonist need not even survive to keep the lead role, so that tension is still there.
I have concerns about how fully the universe of the book has been realized. Interplanetary conquest is an odd notion, but maybe some species (many, including ours) never move past expansion via biological reproduction. If a species transmutes itself into information and energy, it is taking itself out of that game (another Fermi paradox solution). Of course, if one starts converting galaxies to computronium, the biologicals are in trouble. The implications of the skip drive are more problematic, as the attack on the Whaids shows: if any of a dozen hostile species can park battleships in near-orbit with no warning, you cannot adequately defend against a surprise attack. Unless you have massive defenses everywhere, always on alert, you are vulnerable and will lose colonies. Ender's Shadow notes this problem in defending against near-light speed ships; instantaneous transportation makes defense near-impossible, especially given the phyics described that make moving defenders between planets a much longer process than sending attackers.
Perhaps some of these are explored further in the sequel(s). I look forward to more from John Scalzi.