I have, until recently, only read two offerings of military science fiction. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was an engaging book; it’s idea that only those who are willing to offer their lives for democracy are allowed to participate in the democratic process holds appeal. Joe Haldeman’s Forever War was a criticism of warfare standing opposite of Heinlein’s work, and is thought to be Haldeman’s experiences as a Viet Nam veteran beneath the veil of space opera. It kicked my butt, and the polarities of conscription (Haldeman) vs. volunteerism (Heinlein) were not lost on a child of the Viet Nam era; one who,like so many others of the time, reviled the war in Southeast Asia
It’s been many years since I’ve read these authors. I’ve had no interest in military-based speculative fiction since. As someone who now has a family member in the military, the idea of romanticizing or reliving the bloody business of war via fantasy did not appeal. Bias that excludes something new and exciting? In the case of John Scalzi, a resounding yes.
I’ve read a lot of reviews comparing Scalzi’s works involving the Old Man’s universe to Heinlein’s work. There are key differences, and they make the work readable and exciting. There’s the notion of recruiting the old for service in the Colonial Defense Forces. It implies -or at least, I inferred- an important plot difference between Scalzi, Heinlein and Haldeman: Scalzi’s CDF values the wisdom of age in it’s recruits and at the same time swells it’s ranks with the irresistable promises of a new and powerful youthfulness. CDF controls most of the wealth and knowledge obtained in the human quest for colonization. Most of the operations of the CDF act in complete secrecy and sovereignty. Unlike either Haldeman or Heinlein, the soldiers of the Old Man’s War posess genetically modified human bodies rather than armor, and that makes an interesting difference: give a man a gun, and he might use it. Give a man the reflexes of a cat and he will use it.
Scalzi stands in a sophisticated space between the works of Heinlein and Haldeman, and that makes me want to read more. And for those of you who have not read his work. Start now.
Maybe you read the online serialization of The Human Division. Be advised: there is additional material in the book, and the price point is the same as the online serial.
John Scalzi will be at Booksellers at Laurelwood on Tues. May 28th, starting at 6:00 p.m. See you there.