Old Man's War - John Scalzi sometimes a first novel gets everything right. writing that is clean, clear, and fluid. characterization that is simple, straightforward, and real. a narrative that hurtles forward but does not feel rushed or incomplete. ideas that feel new and that are conveyed with enthusiasm and a brisk, unpretentious freshness. such is Old Man's War.

this is a military science fiction novel and the first of a series. that probably brings up a whole host of automatic preconceptions about what will be happening and how the protagonist - a recruit in the interstellar wars of the future - will be quickly introduced to his new life... initial bonding with his fellow soldiers... training with a tough drill master... the first battle... the first kill... the death of comrades... cynicism... more battles, and the promise of more to come... and somewhere in there, perhaps, a bit of unlikely romance. the template has been around for a while, Starship Troopers et al, and Old Man's War doesn't stray from the tried-and-true.

but as anyone even slightly familiar with the novel's premise knows, this traditional narrative gets a shot of adrenalin by having the hero be a 75-year old man who finds not just a new life, but a new body by joining up with humanity's defenders. actually, "adrenalin" is the exact opposite of the word that should be used. because of new soldier John Perry's past life, the novel has actually been injected with a massive dose of wry introspection and not a little melancholy. and so many of those traditional stops on the military scifi journey are likewise transformed into something different. even the inevitable 'unlikely romance' has become a rather original new thing.

oh how i enjoyed the opening chapter! rather than a youngster fit to jump into conflict and other forms of excitement, we get the calm and thoughtful musings of an old man looking back with fondness and sadness on his rich but quite regular life, and getting ready to start that life anew. a contemplation colored with all of the amused and slightly cantankerous distance that a gentle grandfatherly type would have. and much later in the novel, as John Perry spends time with the unusually intriguing romantic interest, we get another warm and often unsentimental portrait of this past life. all quite moving. i did not expect to be so moved by Old Man's War.

despite everything i've mentioned so far, this is still a tough-minded book that is rooted in classic military tropes. there are a lot of fascinatingly exotic and often horrible aliens. there are battles on the ground and up in space. there is blood and guts and a huge body count. and yet the word that comes to mind after reading the novel is... lovely.