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06 August 2015


Hey CR,

I'm really not participating in this discussion because while I enjoy SF, I haven't read Technocreep yet (although I thought I had ordered it for the library last fall - must remedy that!) and I couldn't get into Old Man's War. Shocking, I know, especially since he's a fellow Ohioan. I much prefer his Red Shirts. The premise of OMW seemed interesting, but it just didn't keep my attention past the first few chapters.

But no, I don't think it's either his best, or a good example of the genre. SFF was one of my first choices for reading matter when I was a kid, and I've read a lot. Email me if you'd like suggestions and we can chat about the sorts of stuff you enjoy: character-centered vs. plot-driven, pacing, etc.

As to your first two questions: I think it would be great to send all the politicians and warmongers to fight our wars on the front lines, not behind their safe desks. Sure, make 'em new bodies and send them far far away on one-way tickets. But they're not getting my DNA to do it!

I loved Old Man's War. It's a story about human nature, with characters and prose and themes that could have served well in almost any genre. The science in this science fiction serves to make the story fun (because ALIENS!) and to coax the reader into thinking about mortality and old age.

Is the premise plausible? Dunno. That's not why I read SF. I like speculative fiction because it gives my imagination a chance to play, not because I want a blueprint for the futue.

I read a fair bit of science fiction, and although this is a favorite of mine, I don't think it's typical. Or at least it's not typical of military space SF, which tends to feature a lot of action but not much else. Scalzi writes plenty of good action scenes, but not at the expense of developing his characters or posing "What if?" questions.

1. What did you think of the premise of this book (old people reconfigured to fight wars away from planet Earth)?
Technocreep didn’t discuss the sort of bioengineering such as cloning or mixing human DNA with animal or “alien” DNA, which is a huge premise of OMW. As I am aware, this is not yet possible because despite the fact for example that pigs’ hearts are similar to human hearts, you can’t just stick a human heart in a pig and expect it to work or vice versa. Even the transplant of human organs to other human’s is difficult and not always possible. So. the premise of OMW for me was totally out there because as of yet, humans have not yet (a) encountered alien life; (b) figured out how to send humans beyond our solar system in a timely fashion that won’t kill them; (c)figured out how to successfully clone and/or bioengineer humans; or (d) successfully implant technology (such as brain pal) into humans.

That said, were this all possible, I guess it makes sense to reconfigure the aged to make expendable soldiers. I mean, I have a problem with considering humans (or even animals) as expendable, cloned or not cloned. I also think that OMW presents a fairly bleak view of the future: Same shit, just somewhere else. But to sort of get into question 3, I think this bleak “human nature will never change” attitude is not atypical of a lot of science fiction. I think that there are a lot of moral/ethical issues that are raised in OMW but not really addressed. I don’t think Scalzi wanted to write a “thinking person’s” science fiction novel exploring the ethics of reconfiguring senior citizens to fight in alien wars, just a kick ass one where lots of stuff gets blown up and soldiers do “cool” and heroic things.

You know what gets me? I honestly cannot imagine many grandmothers at age 75 agreeing to say good bye to their children and grandchildren like that. Maybe if they had never had children or if their children and grandchildren had pre-deceased them.

2. How would you feel about someone using your DNA to create clones/future soldiers? If I am dead, I don’t care if anyone uses my DNA to clone a replica of me. She would look like me, but would not be “me” and I presume that the clone would have her own free will. If I am alive, however, this would not be OK. I don’t want to live forever and I don’t think that humans should try to.

3. I don't read a lot of SF. Would you consider this a well-done example of the genre? Did you like it?
I also don’t read a lot of SF but I do know that Scalzi is very popular among those who do and the OMW series in particular. However, compared to the other plain old fiction books that I enjoy, I did not think this book was all that great. It was entertaining, but fairly flat in terms of characterizations. When Thomas bites it about half way through, I had to remind myself who he was and why I should care about him.

I liked Red Shirts by Scalzi more, but mostly because of the Star Trek angle. The first half of it really took me back to thinking about what I loved about the T.V. show(s).

The science fiction books I have really loved thus far have been books that really make the me ponder not the future but the present: books like Slaughter House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. le Guin or Kindred by Octavia Butler. And I love The Hitchhiker’s Guide books, but mostly because they are silly.

Oh, you can still participate. Most book group attendees never really read the books, do they? Too bad we can't all just get together for wine and chocolates while we discuss books we haven't read. :)

I always read a lot of Fantasy but have never been able to get into SF. I found OMW a serviceable read but it certainly didn't set me on fire.

And dude, I would be totally into sending our politicians to fight their own wars. I wouldn't bother giving them new bodies first, though! (MEOW.)

Stella, dear,
Well, at least we didn't have totally opposite tastes on this one. It was okay, but for some reason I keep coming back to the word "traditional" when I think about it. Pretty traditional view of the future; aliens; war scenes; etc. (although I did get a kick out of the main character worried about "losing his humanity" for stomping on the one-inch tall aliens, and all the other soldiers going "Yup, you've been in service for X number of years, that's about right.") So there were undoubtedly clever bits. But the ending struck me as total traditional--yeah, I know my wife waits for me wherever, blah blah blah. Not sure why the romantic doesn't bug me in, you know, romance or chick lit, but it does bug me in SF. Or perhaps just when a man is writing it.

Thanks for such complete answers. I agree with you that I couldn't see so many 75-year-olds signing up to leave their families and the earth. I'll address it more in my answers. I have been so glad to hear from all three of you--Lynne and Stella too--because the different takes on what constitutes "good" SF to different readers has been really fascinating. Now--
1. What did you think of the premise of this book?--it was okay, but I was hoping for something more in execution, just because so many people had recommended this one so highly. It all seemed plausible enough, but I must confess I prefer books like Drew Magary's Postmortal, that are set in the future, but not necessarily futuristic. I also need more humor than this one had, although John Perry was a likable enough protagonist. What I couldn't get over was all the 75-year-olds assuming they would be made young to fight wars (which seemed like the main selling point for signing up)--I guess I would assume that your government was just offering you up as some sort of cannon fodder or some other nefarious end. And who wants to be made superhuman just to go join the military?

2. How would you feel about someone using your DNA to create clones/future soldiers? --I did feel that something like this is plausible. I guess when I'm dead nothing much matters but the whole idea of this makes me annoyed anyway.

3. Would you consider this a well-done example of the genre? Did you like it?--I liked it okay but have already forgotten most of it. Mr. CR thought it was pretty good and he reads a lot more of these books than I do. The only SF I've ever really loved is Douglas Adams's books--right on, Ruthiella--because I loved the idea that the whole universe was ridiculous just like us (the Vogons destroying the earth for a bypass, etc.). Cozy.

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