Old Man’s War
© 2005 John Scalzi
Boot camps on Earth may promise to make a new man out of you, but the intake camps of the Colonial Defense Forces do it for real. At the tender age of seventy-five, John Perry enlisted in the Colonial Defense Forces and disappeared from Earth, never to be seen again. No knew what happened to CDF enlistees, but on Earth the rumors were pervasive: they can make you young again. Why else would they only recruit 75-year olds? Perry thought it was a gamble worth taking, and even when he woke up in a new body — a green one — it was still better than being hunched over and arthritic. But then the mysteries around the CDF fell away to reveal ugly truths: the universe brims over with intelligent and aggressive species, and all of them are fighting tooth and nail to expand faster than the next guy. Ordinary soldiers stood no chance against the universe of horrors, but auguments — with increased strength, stamina, and abilities — could at least hold their own, especially when coupled with the experience of mature humans transferred into them. Even so, 75% of augments would not survive their term of enlistment.
Old Man’s War is first in a trilogy, and is somewhat reminiscent of Starship Troopers given the supersoldiers fighting against a galaxy of monsters. The alien creatures vary widely, from slime molds to biological shredders. The Hork-Bajir would not be out of place here. Part of the reason so many CDF troops die is that they’re in constant use: if humans aren’t defending colonies, they’re attacking alien colonies or clearing out native species to make room for human colonists. Can’t we all get along? …no. The last person to ask that question in the novel got turned into a puddle of goo in an alien church, so…no. It’s kill or be killed. The only diplomacy in the novel occurs after a ritual of individual combat designed to see how many questions the winners earn the right to ask.
This is the first Scalzi novel I’ve not read which is intended to be more serious than funny, and while there are light moments, Old Man’s War is chiefly a SF combat thriller. There are creepier elements to explore, too, like the “Ghost Brigades”. I could see reading more of this series, but I was mostly interested in the idea of transferring consciousness from an aged body into a lab-grown young one. Unfortunately, a lot of the tech the CDF uses is above the heads of our newly-arrived narrator, so we don’t really get an inkling as to how it works. Because humans often steal technology from aliens, even the upper echelons of the CDF don’t know exactly how things work, and they’re not the only ones. I might continue with this series if the kindle books go on sale, but I mostly read this for the basic ideas of consciousness-transferal. More monster-slaying doesn’t strike me as too exciting.