Thoughts on Old Man’s War

Old Man's WarI’m especially susceptible to information overload if I’m not careful, and over the last year and a half I’ve been slowly ratcheting up my daily intake through the magic of Twitter- the format lends itself well to slow incremental adjustment- and then Google Reader. I add a few people and sites until I’m almost overwhelmed, and then stay there for a bit. When I start to find myself reloading and wishing there was more content, I know it’s time to add more.  It’s working out pretty well so far.

Janice has followed John Scalzi’s blog for a while now, and keeps sharing the better moments with me. It wasn’t until last November or so, though, that I finally added him to my daily reading. Something felt off, though, and until a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t figure out what it was.

I’d never read any of his damn books. I was a tourist.

Enter all the usual excuses here. Lack of time, other things to read, so on. Never mind that we’ve had several of his paperbacks on the shelf the whole time. Or that I had a .pdf of Old Man’s War I’d gotten for free, for fuck’s sake, courtesy of the fine people at Pathetic.

So I set about to fix that, and as I got to the last page I had one clear and startling thought: Holy crap, that was easy. It was probably the fastest I’d ever ingested a novel,taking less than 20 hours’ reading time (this is unspeakably fast for me, for various reasons). It’s not that it’s a simple novel, far from it, but it’s presented in such a way that the information contained in its pages seemed to leap into my head. Compare this to, say, Heinlein, whom I personally find so dense that I’ve never been able to get too terribly far into any of his books. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that Old Man’s War is something of a love note to Starship Troopers.

I worked at a movie theater my last year of film school. The head projectionist (well, head projectionist until he got transferred to another theater in town and I took his place) was a pre-Internet high-order geek. One of his practices was to have a stack of books up in the booth; there’s a lot of downtime in the front end movie theater business. He never kept anything new to him up there; they were series he especially treasured, like Robert Asprin’s Myth series. He would dole them out and circulate them among the other employees like a drug dealer, cracking the door to the projection room just enough to take the previous book and hand over the next fix. It would have looked nefarious to an outsider, but it’s one of the better memories I have from that job.

I decided upon finishing Old Man’s War that, were I still the head projectionist, it would be my drug of choice. It would be the first book a new usher would get. Moreover, should I ever encounter anyone who had never read any science fiction (or, in the parlance of our times, “speculative fiction”), it would be the first thing I’d recommend. It’s so approachable that I’d bet even my mother, who nodded and smiled and totally didn’t understand a damn thing 5-year-old me was babbling as we came out from seeing Star Wars for the first time, would probably be able to at least get it. It’s like the iPod of sci-fi.

Needless to say, I’m impressed. Also needless to say, I’m already almost halfway into The Ghost Brigades, and while it’s a little slower going, it’s able to be more dense because of the amazing amount of information about the universe Scalzi was able to unpack in the first book.

Amusingly, one of the reasons I might be going a little slower on The Ghost Brigades is because I’m reading the paperback, and not an ebook. This is especially timely given current events in the ebook world. I actually went to look for a Kindle version of the second book before any of this news broke– right after the books had vanished from Amazon, of course– and just thought they were no longer available. I would have happily bought it again, since reading Old Man’s War in PDF was such a pleasure. At this point, though, I might wait for the possible iPad in my future. Amazon’s DRM already makes me a little dubious, and although I’m taking the moderate path Tobias suggests in his own post, I’m wary as to whether or not this is, in the final accounting, Amazon’s fault.


  1. I will hold off on my opinion on the MacMillan/Amazon failboat (though I am leaning towards ‘A plague on both your houses!’), and simply agree that OMW is a fantastically presented book – a very quick and really enjoyable read.

    OMW, Ghost Brigades, Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale are a really solid tetraology of books, and one of my more recent favorite series.

    There’s also a nice short story set in the OMW universe called ‘After the Coup’ up on if you’re interested – it doesn’t actually require much knowledge of the books, but having read OMW so you know the framework does help.

  2. As much as I love reading on screens, there’s just something saitisfying about a real book to me.