‘Old Man’s War’

Old Man’s War (2005) is a military science fiction novel by John Scalzi. It’s a riff on Robert A Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959).

Old Man’s War follows 75-year-old John Perry who joins the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) to fight hostile aliens (some of these alien species farm humans so that they can eat the human babies, which they consider a culinary delicacy).

The arduous training phase allows the reader to get to know the characters with the latter part of the novel covering the various conflicts Perry has with enemy alien lifeforms.

Joining the Colonial Defense Force sees Perry sign away his rights, including his right to live on Earth. His mind is copied to a new specially grown body, which has been genetically engineered as a younger version of himself, but with exaggerated muscularity, green skin, improved feline-like eyes, and a brain implant (that among other things provides a basic consciousness override and telepathic communication with other members of his squad).

The novel explores the effects of his enhanced and augmented body, the initial sense of power it gives the ‘75-year-old’, the traumatic effects of combat, stress, the guilt of killing intelligent alien species, and the ensuing crisis of identity provoked by the whole experience.

The novel’s creative themes and ideas reminded me somewhat of Philip K Dick. It’s an accessible read, and the prose is nice and clear. The novel explores many concepts, but its core feature, the thing that keeps it all together, is its dry sense of humour (which, in some ways, echoes Richard K Morgan’s 2002 Altered Carbon, with its hard boiled noir sci-fi style first person narrator). Fundamentally, Old Man’s War asks the question: what does it mean to be human?