Monday, July 21, 2008

"Old Man's War" by John Scalzi

Why I read it: This is part of my project to read books by the bloggers I read, so I'll know whether I should take their advice. The blog is http://www.whatever.com/, if you're one of the 3 people on the planet who doesn't read it. I got the book as a PDF as a free download from Tor, just for signing up.

What I loved: The idea is neat. I can tell he's been a marketing writer, because the marketing material that is part of the story is very realistic.

What I hated: This was not the book for me! I think I may just hate science fiction. Or at least outer space science fiction. Even though I wrote one once. (It's filed away.) The cover references comparing Scalzi to Heinlein should have been a giveaway, because I don't think I ever finished a Heinlein book, even though I've got Stranger in a Strange Land around here somewhere, and really wanted to finish Number of the Beast (but just couldn't).

I felt like there was no plot to speak of. Guy goes into space military, guy tries to survive. It seemed extremely episodic to me, and around page 200 I was kind of wishing it was like those Conan collections or something, where Conan goes to a different planet and has a different battle experience, or Conan as a young warrior, or Conan as a pirate king, or whatever.

The book was divided into three parts. The first was about joining up and then getting a new body. Part two consisted of many disconnected experience-gaining battles. The last chapter of part two was where the "plot" seemed to start. Part three consisted of saving humanity and finding a humanizing relationship which is coincidentally with someone he knew back on Earth who just sort of appeared in what seemed like a very unlikely way.

One of the things that bugged me was that there was no foreshadowing at all. I wish I could remember if those Heinlein books had any foreshadowing. Also, I'm not really an infantry type of person; I'm more into single combat I guess. And there was way, way too much dialog for me. This is what my first drafts sometimes feel like while I'm writing them -- endless cute conversations that fill a daily quota easily.

Also, I kept wanting him to approach some of the ethical dilemmas he was creating a little more directly. The CDF's mandate is evil, in my opinion, and killing off the old body was taken pretty lightly. But then, I'm only 110 pages in, so maybe we'll go a little deeper on all of that.

I am not a scientist, but the science made no sense to me. I do not understand at all how a skip drive could ever make the universe a viable place to travel around. I mean, if you're just going to another universe, I do not understand how you get displaced in space. And I don't understand how you wind up in a place that has, you know, the same history every time. But maybe this is why I did so poorly in 1st year university physics.

At the same time, I got all the way to the end of the book, so it can't have been that bad. I was able to keep picking it up again (there's a Mark Twain quote about a book that, once you put it down, you just can't pick it up again, and this wasn't that book).

What I can steal (a.k.a. conclussions): Well, I finished this book, so it can't have been that bad. And I still enjoy his blog. And also, I've never read an entire book as a PDF before, and that was an interesting experience. Not as portable as a paperback, but I survived (other attempts have failed, so it is notable).

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