"John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army.
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-- and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight.
To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding..."
This was such a great story. It was like Cocoon, Starship Troopers, and the 2009 film version of Star Trek (which I adore) all rolled into one. That might sound like an odd mixture, but it really worked here. In fact, I thought what Scalzi did was quite unique. Here you have super soldiers who also bring with them the benefits of age and experience. Imagine being 21 again, but knowing everything you know now. It makes for an interesting type of soldier.
In terms of the story itself, it builds slowly as John (and we) are introduced to this new world. The first 33% of the novel really does feel like one long introduction, and I do think there will be readers who will be put off by that. I too would have been one of those readers once upon a time since that's usually something that would drive me crazy. However, in this case it worked for me. It served to make me feel that much more invested in the world and the characters.
There were some emotional moments, but for the most part the story felt like an entertaining sci fi action film. There was a great scene that was reminiscent of one of my favorite scenes from Star Trek - the space jump:
But, while I loved the "actiony" feel of the story--and I don't want to mislead anyone here because while there were some action scenes, there were some quiet interludes as well--I would also have liked a little more introspection and a little more depth.
"Much evil has been done under the guise of 'just following orders'. I hope we never have to find ourselves using the same excuse." - Bender
There are some great elements here, including a Manifest Destiny vibe as humanity becomes colonizers and invaders. They're not above slaughtering entire alien colonies in order to take over a planet--all in an effort to ensure the human race's survival and future in the universe. I would have liked this aspect delved into a little more. John only really has one true moment of doubt, but it is very brief and glossed over. I'm hoping that it will be explored more fully in later novels of this series.
In terms of the war aspects, I also would have liked this delved into a little more. I kind of expected there to be moments where war takes its toll. And again, while there are some emotional moments, the toll of war is never fully explored. Maybe I cannot fault the novel for this since on some level I don't think it was meant to be that type of story.
The worldbuilding was great, but I do wish we had seen a little more of the various alien beings. Particularly the Consu, who I found fascinating. Their culture was really intriguing-- Ioved all the scenes that featured those guys.
Last, but not least, I must give a special shout out to drill Master Sergeant Antonio Ruiz. This character rocked. my. socks. Quite possibly one of the best drill sergeants ever, with the exception of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket of course, he had some of the best quotes in the book, and made me laugh on more than one occasion:
"Now you think that this is some sort of generalized hatred that I will carry for the lot of you. Let me assure you that this is not the case. Each of you will fail, but you will fail in your own unique way, and therefore I will dislike each of you on an individual basis. Why, even now, each of you has qualities that irritate the fuck out of me..."
And he had just met the poor souls. Scalzi needs to give this guy his own book.
All in all a great read. On to book 2...
Final Rating: 4 stars
**screencap source: http://screenmusings.org/StarTrek/