Micro Review: Old Man’s War is pulpy fun from a fine writer

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi, 2004 — Despite the vast quantities of pulpy military science fiction available to readers, it’s hard to find a satisfying novel in this category: they tend to be trashy and forgettable, romance novels for geeky dudes, with characters as flat as the pages they are written on. It was a shock to discover that Old Man’s War has a character-driven heart, without sacrificing the gory alien-splattering action. And that’s really all you need to know about this book from a micro-review: it’s smart pulp.

I’ll add that it was also a shock to learn that Old Man’s War was Scalzi’s first novel, because it really seems like he’s done this before. As a lifelong Heinlein reader, I felt right at home in this novel, but Scalzi is less sexist and pedagogical, and his sense of humour is more modern. Presumably he read Starship Troopers and thought something like, The world could use a fresh version of this story, without so much political philosophy. Rather amazingly to me as a writer (I wouldn’t dare try) he actually pulls it off: the result is a book I can unstintingly recommend as both an homage and an improvement, just as smart and much more fun.