Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

Stardate: sometime several hundred years in the future. Earth. (I think this is how that kind of thing went? I’m not really sure; I’ve always been on the other side of the Star Trek/Star Wars debate) John Perry is celebrating his 75th birthday by joining the army. Well, technically it’s the Colonial Defense Forces, but still.

Perry, along with many others when they turn 75, signs up because of the “gene therapies” the enlistment contract says they’ll undergo. After all, aging’s no fun; the rumor is that the CDF can make people young again. Why else would they enlist the elderly? So he signs away his life on Earth, and heads off into space, never to return (Oh, yeah. That whole signing-his-life-away bit? It’s literal. 72 hours after signing, the volunteer is declared legally dead. All benefits stop, their estate is disbursed. They’re no longer citizens of whatever country they were from; they’re not even citizens of earth anymore: they belong 100% to the Colonial Union.).

Signing up with the CDF means one thing. One, a person is in the infantry for two years. After that, if you’re still alive, the next eight are spent in more specialized fields. No matter what status a person held on earth, they still serve as footsoldiers for the CDF in a massive, galactic war against truly alien (ha! Alien! Get it?) (Sorry) foes. Two, CDF turns recruits green.

As Perry trains, fights, and watches his friends die around him, he starts to question if it’s at all worth it–the violence, the killing, the bloodshed. But then he catches a glimpse of someone oddly familiar, and he wonders if the life he left behind is truly gone forever…

Full disclosure here: apart from the previously mentioned Star Wars (original trilogy only), I’m not really into hard sci-fi. The starships, the interstellar travel, the alien planets, none of it ever really grabbed my attention. Until I was told to read Old Man’s War. Holy crap it’s a good book. Perry is an incredibly relatable narrator, and seeing the universe through his eyes is like seeing it through your own. Scalzi builds alien worlds filled with even more alien beings, and does it beautifully. If you like war stories, sci-fi stories (or if you don’t like sci-fi stories), stories of the unfamiliar, stories about friendship, stories about life and death and love and loss, or if you’re just looking for a way to pass the time, give Old Man’s War a read. You won’t regret it.

Favorite Line:

She was my friend. Briefly, she was my lover. She was braver than I ever would have been in the moment of death. And I bet she was a hell of a shooting star.

Don’t read if: you’re appalled at green people, tiny people, old people, dead people, or people who should be dead but aren’t