SCALZI, John. Old Man’s War series: Old Man’s War (2005). The Ghost Brigades (2006). The Last Colony (2007). Zoe’s Tale (2008). The Human Division (2013). The End of All Things (2015). Stand-alone novels: Fuzzy Nation (2011). Redshirts (2012). The Collapsing Empire (2017).
John Scalzi is a highly respected writer of ‘hard’ science fiction novels, by which I basically mean space operas with science. I’d never read him before but I got ahold of the first novel in his Old Man’s War series (aptly titled Old Man’s War, 2005) and liked it so I decided to read the whole series. The premise of the series is that interstellar wars are fought by repurposed old people from Earth: reach the age of seventy-five and you can enlist as a soldier in the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces); you receive a new, drastically upgrade body with nanobot-filled artificial blood, genetically enhanced skeleton, musculature, organs and (green) skin, and you’re telepathically connected to your fellow soldiers through a BrainPal inserted in your brain. Serve ten years and you’re placed in a new, normal-human cloned body and allowed to become a colonist in one of Earth’s numerous new colonies. The series follows the footsteps of two respected novels about war in the interstellar future, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Warriors (1959) and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974).
The first novel (Old Man’s War) is good: it’s filled with action and gives you a lot to think about. The second (The Ghost Brigades, 2006) is ridiculously convoluted with weak science as the hero thwarts a revenge plot to wipe out mankind. The third, The Last Colony (2007) brings back the heroes of the first: the plot creaks. Zoe’s Tale (2008) retells parts of the story from the previous two books but from the viewpoint of a fifteen-year-old girl. Aside from a fair amount of recycled content, the novel suffers from tone: Zoe’s voice is much too cutesy at times and doesn’t sound at all like a smart fifteen-year-old girl sounds. BY the time I got to the last two novels in the series, The Human Division and The End of All Things (2013 and 2015), my interest in following the series had waned significantly.
Along the way, I had also picked up three stand-alone novels by Scalzi. The first, Fuzzy Nation (2011), is a reconceiving of H. Beam Piper’s 1962 Little Fuzzy: what do you do when you discover the cute little animals on the planet your employer is looting aren’t just animals, they’re sentient beings with wills of their own? Too cute. 2012’s Redshirts was the best of the lot, a funny reworking of the clichés of televised space opera, along the lines of a bad Star Trek (or good Captain Video) show. It was clever, tricky, fun, and in this context, the late teen-aged mindset of the antagonists and the sophomoric joshing back and forth that characterizes all Scalzi’s books was appropriate. The Collapsing Empire (2017) is a followup much later in history of the world, politics and devices of the earlier Old Man’s War novels. It reads like Scalzi is growing tired of that world.
Over all, if I were to rate these books, I’d give 4 stars (out of five) to Old Man’s War and Redshirts, 3 to Zoe’s War, and 2 to the rest.