A Fire Upon the Deep), grim takes upon what makes us who we really are (Altered Carbon), and the sometimes terrible deeds required to keep utopia in bloom (Use of Weapons). Through all of this, I found science fiction that challenged me and kept me coming back for more, but nothing that I could hand to a fresh fish and say, “Here ya go, Charlie, get reading!”
Then I picked up Old Man’s War by John Scalzi and voila! I had found the object of my quest.
John Perry signed up to join the military when he turned 75. There were rumors of war raging out in the stars, colonies that needed defending, and word was that the Colonial Defense Force would supply you with a brand new body if you signed up. A brand new young body. Having recently lost his wife and feeling no real ties to Earth, John bids adieu to Terra Firma and heads off into the unknown.
The Earth of John Perry’s time is very similar to our own. One day he’s living somewhere in Ohio, and the next he’s tossed out into the stars with no real knowledge of what awaits him. From this vantage point, he takes the reader with him through orientation, meeting new friends, and finding out just what is required of you if you want that beautiful young body. Old Man’s War introduces the concepts of consciousness transference, sterile post-human existence, the warlike nature of intelligent beings in general and humans in particular, and the interstellar land-grab, just to name a few. However, the book does all this with grace and humor, and never once becomes heavy-handed. By filtering all these serious ideas through the smart, amiable John Perry, Scalzi is able to cram in a hell of a lot of broad science fiction elements without it ever becoming A Message or an infodump (two of the things I dread most in science fiction, personally).
This is the kind of military science fiction that even sci-fi novices should be able to relate to. It’s similar to Stargate or even Transformers in that “there’s a whole galaxy of life out there and here I never knew” sort of way. Once you’ve read Old Man’s War, you’re ready for the second book The Ghost Brigades, which is heavier on the science and a touch more ‘out there’ on the protagonist. The two books together do a great job of spinning you up to light speed.