Originally, this post was to be my thoughts on John Scalzi’s latest novel. Instead, I decided to talk about his Old Man’s War universe, as it collectively came to be known.
The Colonial Union(humans) is at war with The Conclave(a confederation of alien races), not to mention other races that aren’t allies of either side.
In OLD MAN’S WAR, humans sign up for military service to be instituted on their seventy-fifth birthday. Samples of DNA are taken and tests run. No one knows why. Once reaching your seventy-fifth, You go into space and find out.
John Perry and his wife had signed up together. Their children had grown and had their own lives. This was their chance to help protect them and the rest of humanity from the Conclave, who routinely attack and destroy colonies established on other planets. It’s the Colonial Defense Force’s job to protect those colonies.
Perry’s wife dies before they reach that magical seventy-five, so he goes into space alone. There he finds out why samples of DNA were taken. His consciousness is transferred into a cloned body. He’s suddenly young again. Not just young. The body has been augmented to be stronger, faster, better vision, reflexes, unable to reproduce,all to make better soldiers. A computer, called a Brainpal, is installed in the brain. One side effect of all this is the bodies are green(I know, little green men are stereotypes in SF. Trust me it all works).
The first book shows Perry’s rise through the ranks as he makes new friends, the battles, the aftermath.
Book two is THE GHOST BRIGADES. Ghost Brigade troops are kept apart for a reason. Introduced in the first book, not much is known about them. They are the shock troops.
John Perry sees one, Jane Sagan, that strongly resembles a younger version of his late wife. She doesn’t know him though. As they are forced to interact on several missions, Perry learns something.
These ghost brigades are just that. They are clones grown from the DNA of recruits that died before reaching seventy-five. They grow up and are trained to be fighters, developing their own personalities. They take names from famous humans. Jane Sagan was named for Carl Sagan and was grown from the DNA of Perry’s late wife.
Here’s the deal about recruitment. If a soldier manages to last ten years(very few do), they can re-enlist or retire. Perry and Sagan, against all odds, survive and fall in love. They chose retirement and lives on a farming planet. Once again, their consciousnesses are transferred to new clones, regular, unaltered bodies. Zoe is an adopted daughter.
Which brings us to the third and fourth novels, THE LAST COLONY and ZOE’S TALE. They both cover the same time frame, the first from John and Jane’s perspective, the latter from their adopted daughter’s.
The Colonial Union want The Perrys to head uo a new colony being established on a just discovered planet. This one is to be different. The Union’s other ten colonies were established from Earth volunteers. Each has their own culture. The new colony is an experiment in that it is to be made up of volunteers from the ten colonies. Ten separate cultures living on one planet. The Perrys job will be to weld it all into a functioning planet before the next wave of colonists arrive.
Right away, a new problem. When they emerge from the interplanetary drive, the planet is not the one to which they were headed. What’s more the drives are automatically disabled and the ships crews are forced to settle as well. All electronic devices are collected, as the Conclave is hunting them to desroy the new colony. Radio waves could reveal their location.
Nothing is known about the new planet. Everything has to be done from scratch. Exploration, establishing towns, farms, all by hand. Nothing that uses any kind of radio wave can be used, as the Conclave may find and destroy them.
They name the new planet Roanoke, the town Croatoan.
Suddenly, everything is okay. The Colonial Union finds them and they are safe.
Disturbing secrets start to emerge. No one, not even the Perrys knew the colony is just a pawn in the war. They want Roanoke found to draw the Conclave fleet in to be destroyed. That should break up the Conclave and leave the Union free reign.
Naturally things don’t go as planned and leaves Roanoke despised by both sides. A martyr for the Union if destroyed, a hated spot for the Conclave because of the destroyed fleet.
A weapon turns up to help turn the tide and ZOE’S TALE tells the story about Zoe, the sixteen year old’s dangerous mission to gain that weapon and save Roanoke. A sixteen year old that had become a symbol to a third alien race and her maturation in the process.
There are two short stories and a novella set in the OMW universe, A QUESTION FOR A SOLDIER was published as a chapbook by Subterranean Press long before I found Scalzi and his books. I haven’t read it because it now commands exremely high prices on the used book sites(eight, nine hundred dollars). AFTER THE COUP was offered for download at a dollar a pop. The novella, THE SAGAN DIARY, was also published as a chapbook bY Subterranean. It tells the story of Sagan falling in love with Perry. I even appear in that one as a dead person. By preordering and paying early for a copy, I got to appear in APPENDIX: COMPANY D IN MEMORIAM, a list of members of 16Th Brigade, Company D, who died heroically in a battle against superior forces. An honor I’m sure.
John Scalzi is building a nice little universe here. Anyone who reads these stories will recognize that the author, like most of us SF fans, is a huge fan of Robert Anson Heinlein. One critic said these books weren’t just an homage to the master, they could very well have been written by him. I’m not sure I would go that far, probably not even Scalzi, but they are fun books to read and he obviously was influenced by Heinlein. Which is not a bad thing at all.
There seems to be another influence on Scalzi: Philip K. Dick. His novel, THE ANDROID’S DREAM, and the sequel he’s currently working on, THE HIGH CASTLE, will be recognized by any PKD fan.