Old Man's War by John Scalzi, and Surface

Old Man's War by John Scalzi, and Surface

The time is the far future, when humanity has spread to many star systems but finds itself in constant conflict with the scores of alien races who are competing for habitable planets. The Colonial Defence Forces (CDF) wage war on humanity's behalf, and have developed into a powerful organisation. They constantly recruit from Earth, but take only old people facing death who have nothing to lose; they have to declare their intention to join at age 65, and finally join up when they are ten years older. These elderly recruits don't know what to expect as no-one ever returns from the CDF; they are officially declared dead when they join.

Old Man's War is the first-person account of one such recruit, John Perry. It describes the transformation which turns him into an efficient fighting machine, his training, the friends he makes and what happens to all of them as they face the appalling death rates of combat against a varied selection of aliens.

If this plot sounds rather familiar, it is: there are strong echoes of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Haldeman's The Forever War (both reviewed earlier this year on this blog – see the links in the review list on the left). Scalzi's book is more enjoyable and entertaining than either and I read it in two sessions, but it suffers from a lack of originality – it is too obviously derivative.

I also had a few problems with the plot. The first ones won't mean much to you unless you've read the book: if the Ghost Brigades were so superior, why withhold their advanced capabilities from the ordinary soldiers? In fact, why bother with the ordinary soldiers at all? The other issue is a more fundamental one: nations are already developing unmanned combat planes and vehicles which have a combination of self-guidance and remote control. It is hard to imagine that in a future of advanced technology, such robotic fighting machines will not be far more efficient than sending live soldiers down to fight, however enhanced they may be.

To sum up, it's the kind of book which is fun to read but not particularly memorable. I read it because it was on the reading list for the Modern Science Fiction discussion group. There are sequels which I may read someday, but they would be way down my priority list.

I thought I'd give this US TV adventure series, now being shown on UK TV, a spin to see how it went. The start is not that unusual – mysterious events at sea, with blurred or fragmentary sightings of sea monsters, ranging from small newly-hatched ones to giant leviathans. They appear to be emerging from caverns deep under the ocean floor.

The suspense is well maintained in the first episode, as a varied group of people (some of whom seem to have some idea of what's happening) try to keep up with developments. It is less hysterical (and bloody) than many such stories, and the writers evidently made use of the considerable length (fifteen episodes) to develop the plot slowly while establishing the characters. In the next couple of episodes it seemed to be settling down into a fairly routine cover-up conspiracy plot, and sadly became less and less credible. I can suspend disbelief sufficiently to accept monsters emerging from the deep, but ones which can live in magma? At that point I stopped watching.
I have posted my review of Where is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox on my website for easy reference, HERE.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)