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Posts for April 3, 2008

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi (Books 2008, 3)

I’ve been reading Scalzi’s blog (Whatever…) on and off for a few years, and he comes across as one of the good guys: certainly on the side of light, a good laugh, and someone you imagine would be fun to meet. So I’ve been meaning to read his SF for a while.

My thanks to his publishers, Tor, then, for making his debut available via their free ebooks programme. I read most of it on the Eee PC, with some bits on my phone (when I was standing up on the tube).

In short, I loved it; though I have some doubts, or reservations.

It’s a curious universe (or at least, galaxy) that he describes: it is teeming with life, intelligent life; but nearly all of it is antithetical to nearly all of the rest of it. Certainly, it is a book about war (the clue’s in the title); but it’s not one war between humanity and another alien race. Instead it’s a series of small wars to defend human colonies from alien attackers, and to attack alien colonies and capture the planets for humans. And once our hero joins up, he is constantly at war; there is no respite, at least that we hear of.

And only one, minor, character questions this state of affairs (though others do express their doubts).

I have a feeling, though, that these questions may be addressed in the sequels, which I’m keen to read (more proof, were it needed, that giving things away can be a good thing for authors and publishers alike).

The ‘old-man’s‘ bit is that you can only join up when you reach 75 years of age. You relinquish your Earth-nation’s citizenship and are legally considered dead. Members of the Colonial Defense Force can never return to Earth.

But to make up for that, you get a new youthful body, and (if you make it through your tour of duty) the opportunity to have a new life on a colony planet. The Colonial powers being technologically far in advance of Earth (which has become a bit of a backwater), there is not similar life-extension technology available to those on Earth.

So you can see the temptation. Peaceful soul that I am, I can imagine that I might take up the offer. Life is better than the alternative, you know?

That ‘reporting back from Eastercon’ business

I realise that I said I would report back from Eastercon. It already seems like quite a long time ago. I had a great time, though I missed out on the Saturday night and Sunday morning and early afternoon, as I went to collect my son from his grandparents’.

It was his first convention, and I think he quite enjoyed it; though the next time we’ll need to ensure that there are some other kids there who like Yu-Gi-Oh! (mental trading card game beloved of ten-year-old boys).

I saw some old friends and had a fine time. I was very restrained in comparison with my old conventioneering days. Early(ish) nights, the lot. It was quite refreshing to come home on the Monday and not feel at all rough.

The guests of honour were great, those of them that I saw, at least. I missed “Charlie Stross’s”: speech because of being away for a while, but he was by far the most visible of them all around the con. China Miéville gave a great speech about how it doesn’t spoil stories to read more into them than the author consciously intended; or than our interlocutor might say we should (you know, the kind who say, “You’re reading too much into it! It’s just a story!”).

And Neil Gaiman (the net’s no. 1 Neil) was lovely. He read a short story, and talked for a bit, and then read the start of his new novel The Graveyard Book. Later on, he did a kids-only reading of The Wolves in the Walls. The best part of that was that parents and carers were allowed in too. He really knows how to handle an audience; even one of the most demanding kind, such as this.

And my boy got his books signed without having to join the apparently-mad queues for the official signing sessions.

Then there was a performance of my friend Andrew’s play, The Terminal Zone, which I wrote about when I read the chapbook, It’s a fine work. This particular performance could have done with more rehearsal, but of course, these are amateurs, fitting it all into the rest of their lives, and doing a damn fine job.

That was followed by a live set from Mitch Benn, who I’ve been a fan of for some time from his performances on Radio 4’s The Now Show, and live, he was absolutely fantastic, especially, I think, since the audience got all his SF references (you don’t say) without any prompting.

All in all, a great weekend, in a fine hotel (pity it’s lost its swimming pool, though).