Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: Old Man's War

To be brief, this book is a mash-up of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and the Men in Black series, with a side order of Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition.  If that sounds flippant, I assure you that it is not intended to be, but rather it is an accurate outline of what's going on here.

Here's what's going on in the story.  Earth is a backwater, a sort of giant park that doesn't take much part in humanity's expansion into the universe.  However if you really want to go see the universe, meet interesting aliens, and kill them, then just wait until you're 75.  The Colonial Forces need troops with a lifetime of experience and guile.  Sign up for a ten year hitch and you'll get a rejuvenation treatment that would make Lazarus Long jealous, a brain implant computer that's like everything you wish Siri really was, and all the training and weapons you're going to need.  Survive that hitch... and you get to help colonize the galaxy.  One catch is that you can never, never go back to Earth.  The other big catch is that you probably won't make it through the ten years.   But hey, you're 75 right?  In another ten years you'll likely be dead anyway, so what's to lose?

Parts of this book are deadly serious while other parts border on farce.  The old phrase "not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine" comes to mind.  The alien threats faced by the Colonials troops are always novel and completely unexpected.  This is of course exactly why people with a lifetime of experience are needed for the job.  It is an interesting mix.  The author explicitly acknowledges that he's writing something for the fans of Starship Troopers, and on that level it works pretty well.  The downside to this is that it's pretty clear that there is no bright post-war future just beyond any horizon.  These wars will never end, and that is that.  I guess it makes for good job security (assuming you survive), and it also makes for an enduring line of sequels for the author.

Bottom line is that this book is entertaining as all get out, even if it doesn't have quite the zip and hopeful outlook of the Heinlein juveniles.  Sooner or later I'll get around to the sequels, but not just yet.  Like the wars in the books, they'll still be there when I'm ready.

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