Cover image of "Old Man's War," a sci-fi novel reminiscent of the pulp magazines

If you’re old enough to remember those space operas (otherwise called space westerns) that crowded the pages of the pulp sci-fi magazines in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, you might have been a fan, since you were certainly young enough to enjoy them. I didn’t. I thought even then that the stories were lame. Most science fiction writers have gone on to bigger and better things in the decades since then, and I for one am delighted.

All of which is to say that the inaugural volume in what has become a six-book series — both the book and the series are called Old Man’s War — comes across to me as a story that only a fourteen-year-old could truly love. Yes, I’m aware how popular this novel and its sequel have become. I can only account for that by imagining that the number of adolescents is even greater than I’d thought — or that a large proportion of sci-fi fans haven’t progressed beyond the emotional age of fourteen. And somehow I don’t think we’re ready for a return to the era of the pulp magazines.

Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War #1) by John Scalzi ★★★☆☆

Here’s what’s distressing about this book:

  • The story is entirely predictable.
  • The future world depicted in its pages bears no resemblance to any scenario that might be projected on the basis of scientific principles — which means, in effect, that Old Man’s War doesn’t really qualify as science fiction.
  • The bug-eyed monsters that populated those old pulp stories are resurrected here in all their improbable glory.

Why, then, did I actually read this book all the way to the end? (Yes, I do that with every book I review!) Two reasons: (1) John Scalzi writes reasonably well and is particularly adept at dialogue. (2) Scalzi has a wonderfully impish sense of humor. He’s a smartass, really, and there’s just enough of the fourteen-year-old left in me that I relate to that.

If you’re wondering what happens in Old Man’s War, you’ll need to read the book. I’m not telling.

For further reading

I’ve reviewed a number of other John Scalzi novels. They’re a mixed bag, enjoying a few, hating others. For example, I despised The Kaiju Preservation Society (John Scalzi goes wild. Very wild.).

For more good reading, check out:

Eight new science fiction authors worth reading now

You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.