Without actually checking, it’s probably safe to say that at least 1/3 of the books that I’ve read throughout the life of this blog are books that I heard of through the Writing Excuses podcast. They advertise a book in every episode (and have since I think their third season) and they talk about a lot of other books as well. They didn’t directly mention this book, but they did mention John Scalzi several times for a couple of different reasons. For one he’s been the President of SFWA, and he’s also Brandon Sanderson’s nemesis, having beaten Brandon out for the Campbell award for best new author in 2006. Anyway, I finally picked up the book, and I have to say that I enjoyed it. On with the review.
The main character of the book is John Perry, a 75 year old former writer who has just signed up for the military. John was a very well written character, one who was quickly able to adapt to various situations and new technology. He’s also from Ohio, which in all it’s relative boringness actually helps him out a little bit in the book. While John was well written, there’s not a whole lot about him that stands out. All of the characters in this book behave very realistically. This book is a lighter SF book, and the characters really need to drive the story, which they do perfectly.
In the future (the book doesn’t say exactly when) mankind has left earth to colonize other planets, unfortunately, so have several other species of aliens. The fights for various planets are all brutal and because of this humanity needs soldiers. But the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) don’t want young kids who don’t have any experience with life, they want people who have lived a full life and have experience, so you can’t sign up until you’re 75 years old. After you sign up, you serve your two years of military service, and then you’re given a place on a colony to stay.
After his wife died several years ago, Perry decides to join the CDF. After he is whisked away from Earth, he finds out how they make 75 year olds into viable soldiers, they run a batch of psychological tests and then transplant your consciousness into a new and improved body ready for combat. The book is split into three sections, the fist section deals with joining the army and getting accustomed to their new bodies, the second section deals with basic training and several combat missions, and the third section has Perry getting involved in a mission with the special forces of the CDF.
To start with, this book is a very quick read. It’s only 351 pages, and honestly it felt shorter than that. The characters all behave realistically and you never get bogged down with the science in the book, because John doesn’t really understand most of the science in the book.
I did have one problem as I got to the end of the book, and this is going to be a spoiler for the third section, but I think the book is still well worth reading even if you know what happens in it. Anyway, John learns that the members of the special forces aren’t people like him who were given new bodies after they joined the CDF. The members of the special forces are people who were born into their enhanced bodies. The CDF took the DNA of people who had signed up for the army at 65 but died before they hit 75 and made their bodies into super soldiers that are more advanced than the regular soldiers such as John. They’re stronger, faster, and have none of the limitations placed upon themselves that the regular soldiers (such as John) do from having lived a life as a normal human being. Essentially they’re superior soldiers in every way shape and form. My question is simple, why are you using regular people at all? Why go through the trouble of recruiting people, testing them, transferring them to their new bodies, and training them for combat (including overcoming mental limitations)? Why not just immediately make them into the special forces type of soldiers? Of course you have the standard response of “well if they do that, we don’t have a story.”
Even though I was bothered by that aspect of the story, it was still a good read and I’ll probably pick up it’s sequel the next time I go out for books (which I think is tomorrow).
A very quick read and an interesting take on humanities adventures into space.