What’s Next for the Old Man’s War Universe?

I started the summer by reviewing John Scalzi’s new Old Man’s War novel, The End of All Things (episodes 1, 2, 3, 4). Then, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the series, I re-read books 1-5. It was a great experience—one that reminded me how clever and well-written these books are. But, of course, the series isn’t over: in fact, Scalzi’s 13-book contract with Tor Books explicitly calls for more Old Man’s War books. Only…what should come next?

To answer that question, I asked three fellow bloggers, who also happen to be fans of the series, to talk about the stories they’d like to see Scalzi put to page. They are: Fred Kiesche of Bernal Alpha, Renay of Lady Business (and Strange Horizons), and Martin McGrath—who I wanted to refer to as a “cultural critic,” but who prefers to be known as “someone who occasionally writes about SF.” And of course I add my own ideas at the end.

Fred Kiesche: What would I want out of a new Old Man’s War novel (or sub-series)? Just do something different, John, and be yourself.

I enjoyed Old Man’s War. When I heard that he was doing a novel focusing on John Perry and Jane Sagan’s adopted daughter Zoe, I was skeptical. Didn’t we get this story already? And a YA novel? Well, Scalzi proved me wrong. I enjoyed it.

Then came word of The Human Division. I had read the original short story, “After the Coup” when it first appeared on the newly-launched Tor.com site (I even have the original audio version. Original? Yes. Scalzi himself reading it, still can be found if you dig around a bit). It was enjoyable but the characters did not really work for me. A whole novel with those two? Erm…

But then The Human Division came out and Tor had the brilliant idea of releasing it chapter by chapter, both as ebooks and audiobooks. So, every week I got a new chapter, popped it on my iPod, and listened to it while I drove my daughter to school (she, by the way, enjoyed Redshirts, but I’m not sure if it was John Scalzi’s writing or Wil Wheaton’s narration that interested her more). Fantastic book, loved each chapter more than the previous one, especially the characters that I did not think I was going to enjoy. I could see those two in a well-produced television series on the order of the BBC’s Sherlock. I’ll even admit it: I like the character of Harry Wilson more than I like the character of John Perry.

Where next? I’ve been pondering this since it was proposed and while I’ve occasionally tossed out an idea (naval fleet actions!) most of those ideas do not play to John Scalzi’s strengths. If I want naval fleet actions, I’ll stick to my David Weber Honorverse stories. From John Scalzi, I want more oddball characters trying to maintain some good in a universe that is at best ambivalent towards their continued existence with a good dose of humor. If he tosses in fleet actions as well, even better. But just keep doing what he does best and I’ll keep buying!

 

Renay: The Old Man’s War series has been one of my favorite SF universes since it first lured me back into science fiction. I’ve loved all the stories Scalzi has written and plan my reading around new releases. Now that The End of All Things is out to wrap the current story arc up, I have some hopes about the the universe and what we might see from Scalzi in the future.

In The Last Colony we formally meet an older, teenage Zoe, John Perry’s adopted daughter, and we got her version of the events in Zoe’s Tale. We know she moved back to Earth with her parents, but what about her future? Does she stay on Earth the rest of her life? Or does she eventually move into spheres that net her chances to get involved, once again, in the affairs of the Colonial Union and by extension, the Conclave? I would love to see the novel about Zoe as an young adult, how she interacts with the Obin, how she creates a future for herself with her complicated past, and where they leads her as she grows up. Zoe’s position with the Obin makes her uniquely placed. She changed the world once with help from her father and the Obin; I’m super ready to see her do it again.

For newer characters, in The Human Division and The End of All Things we met Hafte Sorvalh and Ode Abumwe, diplomats and political leaders. One of Scalzi’s strengths is writing stories where diplomacy, compromise, and compassion for others is a key ingredient in making the story work and resolve without excessive violence, and sometimes, no violence at all. I love this aspect of his stories, and both Hafte and Ode were excellent characters who accomplished similar goals from two drastically different places. Although they didn’t appear much together, I’m hopeful there’s a future in which they have to work in concert to solve Yet Another Political Mystery, because the way Scalzi writes diplomacy is just as suspenseful as a space battle. Hafte and Ode’s positions at the closure of The End of All Things would make pairing them together for another sensitive diplomatic incident awesome and exciting.

 

Martin McGrath: Obviously, like many readers, I’m interested to see what happens next on the big scale in Old Man’s War universe, now that the status quo between the Colonial Union, Earth and the Conclave has been upset. However, perversely I suppose, I’d most like to wander off on a tangent from the mainstream of Scalzi’s story and explore the things that seem to run counter to the grain of his universe.

The one group of people I’ve always wondered about were the Mennonite colonists that appear in The Last Colony. They’re such an anomaly in these books. There are one or two characters throughout the series who question the laws of how this universe works, but no one who presents such a challenge as the Mennonites. I’ve always wondered how they manage to hold a planet and how they survive in a universe that is overwhelmingly hostile and in which more-or-less everyone seems committed to grabbing what they can as quickly as they can.

How do a pacifist people survive against this background? In a universe full of warrior species who view humans as meat or as pests and where most of humanity is controlled by a military alliance dominated by genetically modified soldiers, the Mennonites are just weird. Even for an “enlightened” ruler like General Gau their refusal to engage with government beyond their own boundaries could be a huge headache.

I have this image of the Mennonites moving through the Conclave bewildering everyone they encounter – human and alien – while, at the same time, representing something that all of them desperately appear to need – a sense of both settled relationship with the worlds on which they live and an ability to live within their means. And, of course, how could the Mennonite cope with forced exposure to cultures that are so much stranger than anything their religion and ideology might have prepared them for? How they might find an accommodation within this universe?

How do you turn this into a novel? That’s Scalzi’s problem! But it’s certainly a set of questions I’d like to see explored.

 

The G: During the course of my Old Man’s War series re-read, I often found myself wondering where I’d like to see the series go. Some of these ideas, of course, were inherently silly, such as How to Cook 40 Humans: Rraey Homestyle Cuisine. (Apologies to Serak the Preparer.)

I did have some good ones too. For example, in The Last Colony, the Roanoke colony encounters an intelligent indigenous species, which they refer to as “werewolves” (due to a remarkable resemblance with Earth’s mythical lycanthropes). The werewolves follow the elephant-like fantie herds as they migrate through the forest, can use tools, prefer to travel through the trees and have a human-like capacity for violence. The werewolves are developed further in Zoe’s Tale as possessing the intelligence and sociocultural development level of early homo sapiens—including the ability to negotiate rather than use violence, and to engage in reciprocity.

But I want more werewolves! Where things leave off, a few humans “get” the werewolves, but by the end of the quartet, most of them are off-world. So it would be really cool to get a novel that tells the story of Roanoke after the climactic events of The Last Colony/Zoe’s Tale. How the colonists come to terms with the indigenous species, and indeed if they can do so while avoiding the misdeeds of Earth-bound colonists, would, in my opinion, serve as a fantastic basis for a future Old Man’s War novel. Plus a few of the more interesting side characters from The Last Colony/Zoe’s Tale (e.g. Manfred and Gretchen Trujillo) could get their day in the sun. Make it happen, John!”

 

…so there are our ideas, John. Please remember to thank us in the acknowledgements!

The G is founder and co-editor of the group blog ‘nerds of a feather, flock together’, which covers SF/F and crime fiction, comics, cult films and video games. He moonlights as an academic.

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