Books of 2015, #30: The End of All Things, John Scalzi

So, John Scalzi and Tor decided to once again serialize his latest Old Man’s War novel—as they did for The Human Division a couple of years ago—though into rather fewer installments this time; 4 versus 13. So I really started four weeks ago, and just finished this past Tuesday.

As you might expect given that I re-read the entire series in the run-up to the release of this new book, I find them enjoyable.

They’re light, but not necessarily fluffy: some of the questions the narrative asks are not easy questions, and some of the answers that some of the characters give may take a form that surprises you, even if the general thrust of those answers is entirely expected

Some minor characters take some unexpected turns…and there’s one moment that just didn’t work for me. At all. Not because it was beyond the realm of possibility, or out of character, but because it seems to me to require blinders on a lot of characters to succeed. My suspension of disbelief goes far, but not that far.

Still, all’s well that ends well, and I think this dials back the conflict that has been central to the last four books in the series, such that the next book—for one has been promised—can focus on other things. It will be welcome.

I’ve started another novel, but now I’m wondering if I need to re-read The Laundry Files series in anticipation of the release of The Annihilation Score next Tuesday…

Books of 2015, #23-27: The “Old Man’s War” novels, John Scalzi

I was travelling last week (to Berkeley then Sonoma, and yes it was very nice except my first ever time in Oakland saw the rental car’s passenger window get smashed while the car was parked in broad daylight on a major thoroughfare in front of the coffee shop in which Anne and I were having coffee) and I was a little bored with the book I had started—which I have subsequently finished and will be #28—and the first of four new novellas in the “Old Man’s War” series was to be released on what was then the next—but is now this past Tuesday—so I decided to indulge in a little lightning re-read to prepare myself.

My relationship with the military is not entirely usual, in that I never served, but for as long as I can remember, my father was in the USAF, so I had a lot of contact with it growing up.

Even while knowing it wasn’t for me—I am probably not meant for an organization where shouting at your superiors might get you thrown in jail or shot—I have a lot of respect for it as a calling, and I am as clear as I think a lifelong civilian could be about the sacrifices that it involves…which is, I think, a large part of why I look with utter, complete disdain for people who gin up talk about military solutions to world problems (e.g. Republicans).

At the same time, I could also write a long apologia for Starship Troopers, which I don’t actually regard as a particularly militaristic novel—I think it’s far more interesting in its views on the necessity of participation in a civil society. But as much as anything, I suspect that viewpoint is grounded in my exposure in my youth to the actual military.

Which obviously brings us to Old Man’s War and its follow-ons.

Scalzi is a contemporary, and I think that’s a large part of why his writing feels very natural to me—we speak in a similar vocabulary of layers of irony and snark over often heartfelt convictions. If it’s easy to read, it’s also fairly economical—unlike, say, Neal Stephenson, I can blow through a whole novel in a few hours, no problem.

I will say that on this time through, I did notice more places than I remembered where certain phrases clanged—not that they were wrong per se, just that they felt awkward, or that there might have been a better word.

Regardless, all five novels are entertaining, and if there’s occasionally a certain breeziness to them, well, I’m not going to complain—I expect Scalzi to deliver something that has an entertaining diversity characters and a good story; if I want something heavier, I know where to look.