Some centuries into the future, humanity has colonised several worlds using the skip drive for FTL travel. Earth, however, has become a backwater because of overly hesitant and cautious politicians; the level of technology appears barely above ours today. There is next to no contact with colonies; whoever leaves does never come back. Only people from overpopulated countries have the opportunity to become colonists. Citizens of richer countries get only one shot at leaving earth for good: becoming a soldier. When U.S. citizens turn 65, they can sign up to join the Colonial Defense Force at the age of 75. Convinced that the CDF has to make them young again in some way, many sign up—including John Perry, the narrator of this story.
We join John for the ride that starts at his 75th birthday; he leaves earth, is rejuvenated (I won’t spoil the details) and joins the battle for humanity’s survival in a less than friendly galactical neighbourhood. With a death rate of more than 75% over a duty cycle of ten years, chances are he will never get to enjoy another life again; so he’d better enjoy this one!
Old Man’s War is fun. Imagine your grandfather on steroids, an iPhone in his brain and a machine gun at the ready; a fantastic premise! It is a delight to read how John and the other gaffers deal with new lives, new technology and war. On the other hand, we get serious, quite brutal battle scenes. Think Space Cowboys cross-bred with Starship Troopers to get an idea. John’s cynical way to think about the wonders and horrors of his job marks the main conflict in the book.
Sadly, there is not much of a story in terms of chains of events through much of Old Man’s War. There are hints at larger questions, though; for example, what are the motives for the Colonies’ aggression? Maybe the big picture is explored more thoroughly in the sequels. All in all, the book was fun to read, thanks to exciting technology and tart humor among the old guys. Sequels, here I come!