Old Man's War series (Scalzi)

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
25,101
Location
UK
Finished this now and really enjoyed it - an excellent novel.

However, just to ask, does the rest of the series involve John Perry? Or is it a completely different cast?
 

ratsy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2008
Messages
4,644
Hey Brian. OMW is a really good book! Glad you liked it. The follow-up isn't John Perry but it is still quite good. There are familiar characters. Then The Last Colony is John Perry again, with Zoe's Tale a take on the same story from another POV. Human Division is more Harry Wilson centred.

While none are quite as good as the first one, I have loved reading this series. I actually am waiting for the newest one to come back to the library so I can read it.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,158
Location
Scottish Highlands
As I recall, he doesn't feature much in the second book the Ghost Brigade but is back in The Last Colony and Zoe's tale is about his adopted daughter. The Human Division is definitely not about him and I found it very scrappy compared to the previous books. I've not read the last one yet and am a little twitchy now about doing so. The problem is that The Human Division and The End of All Things are both very episodic having been released one 'chapter' at a time on the internet and frankly I found The Human Division read very much like that; each chapter seemed to fall somewhere between a short story and a chapter of a full novel and didn't really, to me, succeed at being either one. To be honest it's about the same reaction I have felt to other attempts to write books in this way (for example the Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson et al).

Edit: Ratsy beat me to it!
 

ratsy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2008
Messages
4,644
I'll agree on The Human Division not being as good as the previous, and for the serial reason, but it still read all right to me.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,158
Location
Scottish Highlands
I just didn't find it very satisfying, it all felt rather bitsy. But agree the actual writing was still good with plenty of Scalzi's trademark wit.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
25,101
Location
UK
The storytelling in Old Man's War is great, and I finished feeling that I'd read a very good novel.

However, afterwards I'm left wondering where the politics went.

John began as a pacifist, willing to sacrifice his ideals for youth, but that character arc seemed to disappear. The nearest we got to political conscience is when John stomps on 1" aliens - a rather absurd short section of the story - and then was dismissed. Similarly when we have the issue of the ambassador who argues for diplomacy over arms - who is again dismissed.

I'm left scratching my head as to whether Scalzi was making any actual political comment, or whether he went out of his way to avoid doing so.

I still feel that I read a well-told story - but now I'm left questioning whether what I read was simply a well-done satire of the military SF genre, or whether Scalzi was actually trying to say something to add to it.

(Btw, yes, I was thrown out of the story by the unnecessary homage to Neil Gaiman. Anyone else notice the reference to Gaiman & McKean?)
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,158
Location
Scottish Highlands
In the later books he develops Perry as probably more anti establishment rather than pacifist. But certainly that aspect of him is further developed in those books. However I didn't really feel he was making any particular political statement with it.
 

psikeyhackr

Physics is Phutile, Fiziks is Fundamental
Joined
Jul 17, 2013
Messages
1,463
I really enjoyed Old Man's War. I liked Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony too, but not as much. It seems like with each successive book Scalzi loses more and more steam. I still haven't read Zoe's Tale yet.

It is curious how different readers react. I like OMW but two things annoyed me. The intelligent beings so small they could be stepped on were not in the least believable to me. I also had a problem with the idea of transferring consciousness. I could accept copying the mind assuming it is just software but consciousness is getting mystical. Beyond that it was G.I. Joe in space. I decided not to read the other books.

Then I broke down 2 years later and read Ghost Brigade. I liked the politics so I have read all of them. I should not have stopped. Part of the problem with the world today is the unknown politics going on behind the scenes.

I read Fuzzy Nation too. I think it is better than Little Fuzzy but that is probably because it has a modern zeitgeist while Little Fuzzy is 1950s charming.

psik
 

Parson

This world is not my home
Supporter
Joined
Oct 11, 2006
Messages
10,321
Location
Iowa
I wasn't overly impressed with Old Man's War, but did read it and at least a couple of the sequels. I have copies of "Little Fuzzy" trilogy, but have not read Fuzzy Nation. --- On the whole I thought "Little Fuzzy" was not set up very well. I thought the Fuzzies were not a believable scenario. But probably no worse than most of the 50's SF.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,158
Location
Scottish Highlands
I deliberately read Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Nation back to back and I think, @psikeyhackr, that you have the difference exactly right; I preferred Fuzzy Nation because it was written in a style that I have become much more accustomed to and fond of. The basic idea was still a sound foundation for an engaging book.

@Parson I'd certainly agree; I also found the original Piper book very implausible and the obvious (to me at least) allegory of the Native Americans was, I felt, rather clumsy. Scalzi toned that down a lot which I think resulted in a better and more plausible book and he also made the Fuzzies themselves more plausible.
 

ratsy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2008
Messages
4,644
Brian, thanks for the prompt. I now have End of all Things at home, borrowed from the library. All this Scalzi talk had me hankering for it.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
25,101
Location
UK
My wife started reading Old Man's War, but complained that it was obviously written by a young white male.

She pointed out casual sexism from the start - where else would a wife die but in the kitchen while cooking? Also, the main character chivalrously rescues a woman in the bar, which robs her of agency. Even the idea of Kathy existing in the Ghost Brigade was problematic, because that character is expected to conform to a man's expectations of what that woman should be.

She also complained that the portrayal of age was completely unrealistic and exactly the sort of thing you'd expect in a young writer with no real experience of people with age - not least that pensioners crave lost youth and don't have sex. And also the fact that the character was willing to completely cut off all ties with his children and home as bizarre.

I'm paraphrasing here, but I think she's right - despite Scalzi's attempts to show himself as liberal in his ideas (not least through the foil of the blatant racist), there is potentially an inherent prejudice in the text that I don't think is intended, but common in male writing.

Not meaning to be controversial or throw about accusations, as much as expand the discussion.

When I finished the book I felt like I'd read a really a very good book with well-told story. But it's left a strange 'after taste', where I'm left wondering what point the story was actually trying to make. Heinlein was all about exploring socio-politics, but Old Man's War, despite being a potential satire of Starship Troopers, doesn't actually seem to tackle that subject matter - or say anything - at all.
 

ratsy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2008
Messages
4,644
Hmmm. That's not something I picked up on but I can see where she is coming from now that it's laid out. Zoe's tale is the only book written in first from a female perspective and I wonder what, if any differences would be found.

I haven't found Scalzi to be heavy on the social aspect with his writing but maybe he is trying to say something. To me they are quite superficial but fun books.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,158
Location
Scottish Highlands
I think I'd agree with @ratsy; I don't think Scalzi is really trying to make any sort of grand statement I think he's pretty much just(!!) a story teller. Maybe we might expect more from his journalistic background but I'm not really sure he is out to give us more. Certainly I treat his work as just good fun and have never really looked for anything more meaningful.
 

ratsy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2008
Messages
4,644
I'm over half-way through The End of All Things and it is my least favorite so far. The second section is almost nothing but Conclave political dialogue. The only action is from the POV witnessing it, not being involved.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,158
Location
Scottish Highlands
Why do I get the feeling he felt the story arc needed finishing off and he just threw something together to do that. I may let sleeping dogs lie and give it a miss.
 

ratsy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2008
Messages
4,644
I'm just glad that I borrowed it from the library, even though I own all the others.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
25,101
Location
UK
John Scalzi publicly positions himself as very liberal and against discrimination - yet the more I think about it, the more I'm troubled by the casual discrimination running through this novel.

Firstly, the obvious - ageism. Old people don't have physical relationships, are obsessed with being young again, and otherwise have nothing to contribute to ordinary society. All in all, it's a damning portrayal of age that at best can be described as ignorant. Apparently, society doesn't regard ageism as a big problem as yet, but IMO it remains a form of discrimination and is therefore unwelcome in civilised society.

Secondly, the sexism - where would Kathy die? As a woman, her place is in the bedroom and the kitchen. But she can't die in the bedroom because pensioners are incapable of sexual relations. So it must be in the kitchen, then. Which is exactly what happens. When Kathy's clone appears, she is not allowed to develop as an individual, but instead is made to define her identity in relation to the dead wife. She may be genetically the same as Kathy, but so would a identical twin. Where does that put Scalzi's argument? Surely he wouldn't argue that if two women are identical twins, and one dies leaving a bereaved husband, that the other should marry the widow?

Thirdly, racism. Scalzi has a character early on who is plainly a caricature of a white liberal's idea of what a racist is. In Scalzi's mind, racism is all about the Ku Klux Klan, mob lynchings, and lack of equal rights. He doesn't seem aware of the greater issue of microaggressions and casual racism. And then proceeds to demonstrate exactly that among his characters - all of whom, except one minor supporting character, are given white anglo-saxon names, the lead character of which comes from a family of "white saviours" trying to campaign for those poor helpless Indian folk. There is *no* racial or ethnic diversity in this book - it is a very white book.

[There is a gay man in this book. But he's just a token supporting character who adds nothing to the narrative. Issues of gender and sexuality are not addressed and play no role in the story.]

And then there's the overall problem that Scalzi has nothing to say in Old Man's War. It's a boy's own adventure story that attempts to begin as serious, but gradually becomes more ridiculous. At no point does Scalzi offer up any insights into war, civilisation, or society. The comparison with Heinlein is completely superficial.

All in all this might not normally be regarded as an issue. But Scalzi is a Hugo Award winner, formerly president of SFWA, and positions himself as a campaigner for social reform. All of which leaves me wondering why the casual discrimination and lack of meaningful commentary in Old Man's War has otherwise not been remarked upon.

Or did I completely misunderstand it?
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,066
I’ve never read this book, but I have seen the criticism that the old people see themselves as just worn-out young people in a couple of places, so you’re not alone in thinking that. Am I right then that your criticism is that it’s just a fairly standard SF adventure story with a gimmick?

I suppose that, while I think Heinlein's ideas are both bad and badly argued, it has to be said that he was certainly trying to make some points.

But I wonder if this brings into effect a wider argument about what sort of book a writer should be writing. If we don’t criticise Dickens’ contemporary writers for lacking his social reforming aspect, should we do the same thing for Scalzi? And is a writer who deals with social issues in real life expected to do so in his writing? I'm not sure.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
25,101
Location
UK
Am I right then that your criticism is that it’s just a fairly standard SF adventure story with a gimmick?

In essence. Superficially it is entertaining and it did make me laugh while reading it. Afterwards, I found myself feeling made increasingly uncomfortable at its content.

I suppose that, while I think Heinlein's ideas are both bad and badly argued, it has to be said that he was certainly trying to make some points.

Exactly - Heinlein had something to say. Whether you agreed or disagreed, he made you think. Scalzi doesn't doesn't have anything to say, nor tries to make the reader think about anything.

But I wonder if this brings into effect a wider argument about what sort of book a writer should be writing. If we don’t criticise Dickens’ contemporary writers for lacking his social reforming aspect, should we do the same thing for Scalzi? And is a writer who deals with social issues in real life expected to do so in his writing? I'm not sure.

That's a very good point, but this isn't about people not campaigning for equality, but instead actively campaigning - only to find the issues not simply absent from their books, but the writers also displaying the same biases they actively deride online. Scalzi seems very much in that camp

However, I'm not an expert on social issues, nor am I well-read on Scalzi, so I don't know if I've misunderstood or failed to understand something.
 

Top