I have to say, before I listened to the first Old Man’s War book, I was strongly resistant to them. Because, like the exquisite Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies, I thought that the title was dumb. I mean, it’s totally accurate, but I thought that there was no way that concept could translate into an interesting story.
Not only was I wrong, I was crazy wrong.
In the last year, I’ve read all five of the main stories set in the Old Man’s War universe. And the series also proved me wrong about my distaste for thematic sequels: sometimes, they actually do work. As in the case of The Human Division by John Scalzi.
The book was originally published as a serialized e-book, but I don’t do serials. I can barely choke down my cereal in the morning, much less keep out with things that come in a little at a time. I prefer a binging approach, so I listened to the audiobook after it came out in a collected volume.
The interlocking stories follow Harry Wilson, a technical advisor on the diplomatic spaceship, the Clark. Harry (who was a supporting character in the earlier books in the series) continues to find himself in the middle of trouble as diplomacy comes to the fore of the Colonial Union’s interactions with the larger universe. Due to the events in The Last Colony, which (spoilers) drove a wedge between the Earth and the Colonial Union, these diplomatic efforts of this b-level fire team are one of the only things that are keeping the peace in an increasingly hostile universe.
As with any collection of stories, there are going to be stronger and weaker tales. For instance, I really enjoyed the Glenn Beck slash Hearst-ian “A Voice in the Wilderness” take on a radio talk show host who gets used by shadowy forces to further their causes before he’s disposed of to further their plans even more. But even the quote unquote weaker stories are still a fun listen, and the entire book propels forward at a great speed.
One of the things that makes Scalzi’s books stand apart is the attitude apparent in his characters. None of his main characters lack a spine, and their inner strength turns them into quip machines who are all a little (sometimes a lot) on the sarcastic side. This is just Scalzi’s style, and once get into it, it’s fine, but it puts me off a little bit right at the beginning. Maybe it’s because I’m not expecting it and it just feels…different. But I will always give him props for writing stories from a number of character perspectives and refusing to allow things to break down simply into good and bad guys. These stories live in the grey areas where no one is right all the time (well, except Harry) and no one is all evil. This nuance keeps the stories interesting.
I recommend the whole series. Don’t jump in here; the water’s too deep. But start at the beginning and make this a series to knock out when you need something assuredly good.
JMF Rating: 8/10
‘Til next time,