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Re-enlisting in the Old Man’s War

I remember the first time I saw Old Man’s War. It was in my local Borders—a good one, where the books mostly had their spines intact and the staff actually knew what they were talking about. I asked the science fiction guy if he’d read anything good lately, and he pointed me right at it. But I guess I saw that throwback cover art and thought “Heinlein”—and “early Heinlein,” at that. The Heinlein who hadn’t yet embraced free love and freakydeaky libertarian thought experiments. The one who wrote Starship Troopers, an undoubtedly significant novel, but whose John Wayne attitude to war had always rubbed me the wrong way.

I would eventually fall in love with Old Man’s War—even though it is, in one sense, a love letter to Starship Troopers. But it would take some time.

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Black Hole: The Slow Death of the Destination City

One of science fiction’s strengths, relative to other literary genres, lies with its ability to extrapolate present conditions onto imagined futures, and to ponder what life might be like if today’s open questions were taken to their various logical conclusions. This is not the only valid approach to SF—there is and always be a place for escapist fun, as well as “scientistic” SF and SF that transgresses boundaries with other genres. I’ve enjoyed books reflecting each of these approaches, and am certain to again in the future.

But that’s not why I’m here.

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The Politics of Star Wars: Aftermath

When Disney bought LucasArts, with plans for a proper sequel to Return of the Jedi, they had a major decision to make. See, over the past forty or so years LucasArts had solicited a sprawling collection of novels, comics, games and other media, which was called the Expanded Universe (EU). A lot of EU material took place after Jedi, and was probably solicited—and written—with the understanding that no film sequels would actually be made. And if they were? Well, that could be dealt with later on. But now that Disney had possession of the property, the question of what to do with the EU could no longer be put off. People wondered: would they adapt one of the more popular works of the EU, or start afresh?

The answer, as we all presumably know by now, was “start afresh.” And in order to do so, Disney decided to kill off the EU.

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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.

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New Beginnings: The Human Division by John Scalzi

This essay, on The Human Division, is the fifth installment in an on-going retrospective of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. Previous installments have covered Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale. The latest volume in the series, The End of All Things, is currently available from Tor Books.

The Human Division takes place directly after the events of The Last Colony—at a moment when news of the Colonial Union/Earth split (engendered by John Perry and Jane Sagan) is just trickling down to the lower rungs of government and military. Higher up, the powers that be in the Colonial Union are adjusting to the new reality, which is to say, no longer being able to rely on Earth for a steady source of soldiers and colonists.

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A Fresh Perspective: Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

This essay, on Zoe’s Tale, is the fourth installment in an on-going retrospective of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. Previous installments have covered Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony. The latest volume in the series, The End of All Things, is currently available from Tor Books.

Zoe’s Tale is a unique entry in the series, in the sense that it isn’t so much an original story as a a retelling of The Last Colony from the perspective of Zoe Boutin-Perry. Zoe, as you may recall, is the biological daughter of the traitor and scientist Charles Boutin, who offered the Obin consciousness in exchange for a war to destroy the Colonial Union. With Boutin’s death, Zoe became the adopted daughter of John Perry and Jane Sagan.

She also became a goddess-like figure to the Obin, who the Colonial Union have now gifted with the fruits of Boutin’s research in exchange for a treaty of peace and mutual assistance. As such, the Obin insisted that the treaty include access to Zoe. The Colonial Union acquiesced, agreeing that two Obin could record Zoe’s life and experiences (as well as guard her person). These recordings would then be shared with the rest of their species, who may have gained consciousness, but have had no experience of consciousness. Zoe’s Tale thus not only retells the story of The Last Colony, but explores the struggles of a teenage girl coming to terms with being a something in addition to a someone.

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Expansionary Ambitions: John Scalzi’s The Last Colony

This essay, on The Last Colony, is the third installment in an on-going retrospective of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. Previous installments have covered Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. The latest volume in the series, The End of All Things, is currently available from Tor Books.

You may recall me rather presumptuously suggesting that The Ghost Brigades was likely to remain my favorite entry in this series when all was said and done. Oh what a difference a week makes!

Now, don’t take that for a knock on The Ghost Brigades. I mean, that book is great for all the reasons I laid out for you. It’s just that The Last Colony does an exquisite job of bringing the whole story together, is a wonderful story in its own right and even tackles some of the lingering issues I’ve identified in previous entries. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Hard Truths from a Harsh Universe: Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades

Last week I discussed the significance, both literary and personal, of John Scalzi’s Hugo-nominated novel Old Man’s War (2005). Today I shift focus to The Ghost Brigades (2006), the direct sequel and second book in the on-going series.

Rather than continue the story of John Perry, 75-year-old recruit to the Colonial Defense Forces, The Ghost Brigades shifts focus to the eponymous special forces units—including Perry love interest Jane Sagan. Only Sagan isn’t really the protagonist here, per se. But more on that later.

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Old Man’s War, 10 Years On

I remember the first time I saw Old Man’s War. It was in my local Borders—a good one, where the books mostly had their spines intact and the staff actually knew what they were talking about. I asked the science fiction guy if he’d read anything good lately, and he pointed me right at it. But I guess I saw that throwback cover art and thought “Heinlein”—and “early Heinlein,” at that. The Heinlein who hadn’t yet embraced free love and freakydeaky libertarian thought experiments. The one who wrote Starship Troopers, an undoubtedly significant novel, but whose John Wayne attitude to war had always rubbed me the wrong way.

I would eventually fall in love with Old Man’s War—even though it is, in one sense, a love letter to Starship Troopers. But it would take some time.

[“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.”]

Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni Rising — Precursor to A Game of Thrones?

Provocative title? Sure–and only partially true. But to the obsessive genre reader, Mr. Martin’s unfinished Song of Ice and Fire series can often read like a collage of influences, drawing from a wide range of classics–often with the express intent to subvert or problematize. Or so it seems to this obsessive genre reader, at least.

Katherine Kurtz’ long-running Deryni series, about the Kingdom of Gwynedd and its ruling elite, is arguably one such influence. I’m not sure how direct that influence is, but as I re-read Deryni Rising (1970) it was hard not to think of A Game of Thrones, and imagine the two books in conversation with one another. For example, an oft-cited attraction to A Song of Ice and Fire is its “realism,” which is not to say that the series is “realistic,” per se, but rather to note the series’ embrace of hard-nosed realpolitik contextualized by a world marked by limited access to the magical and metaphysical. Tolkeinic it ain’t, but Kurtzian it may very well be.

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A Race to the Finish: The End of All Things by John Scalzi, Episode 4: “To Stand or Fall”

The End of All Things is John Scalzi’s sixth foray into the Old Man’s War universe, and a direct sequel to The Human Division (2013). Like its predecessor, it is being serialized prior to the paperback release, albeit in four rather than thirteen parts. This review series follows the serialization schedule, with an entry for each episode. However, whereas previous entries (one, two, three) in this review series have focused on the “To Stand or Fall,” this entry will also draw broader conclusions about the novel as a whole.

Warning: some spoilers were an inevitable consequence of writing this review. Those who are spoiler-sensitive should tread carefully.

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Return to the Source: The End of All Things by John Scalzi, Episode 3: “Can Long Endure”

The End of All Things is John Scalzi’s sixth foray into the Old Man’s War universe, and a direct sequel to The Human Division (2013). Like its predecessor, it is being serialized prior to the paperback release, albeit in four rather than thirteen parts. This review series will follow the serialization schedule, with an entry for each episode. Two weeks ago, I covered “The Life of the Mind,”and last week, I reviewed “This Hollow Union.” This week I am reading Episode 3: “Can Long Endure.”

Warning: spoilers for The Human Division and previous episodes of The End of All Things were an inevitable consequence of writing this review.

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A Surprising Interlude: The End of All Things by John Scalzi, Episode Two: “This Hollow Union”

The End of All Things is John Scalzi’s sixth foray into the Old Man’s War universe, and a direct sequel to The Human Division (2013). Like its predecessor, it is being serialized prior to the paperback release, albeit in four rather than thirteen parts. This review series will follow the serialization schedule, with an entry for each episode. Last week, I reviewed Episode 1: “The Life of the Mind.” This week, I am reading Episode 2: “This Hollow Union.”

Warning: spoilers for The Human Division and previous episodes of The End of All Things were an inevitable consequence of writing this review.

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Warp-speed Action: The End of All Things by John Scalzi, Episode One: “The Life of the Mind”

The End of All Things is John Scalzi’s sixth foray into the Old Man’s War universe, and a direct sequel to The Human Division (2013). Like its predecessor, it is being serialized prior to the paperback release, albeit in four rather than thirteen parts. This review series will follow the serialization schedule, with an entry for each episode.

The trick to doing a serialized review, of course, is to ensure that each part is judged simultaneously on its own merits and in terms of how it fits within the overall narrative. Thankfully I have some experience with this, having written a serialized review of The Human Division in 2013 (check out the first entry, or my final thoughts, if you are so inclined). But enough about all that—on to Episode One of The End of All Things: “The Life of the Mind!”

Warning: spoilers for The Human Division were an inevitable consequence of writing this review.

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Message Fiction: Power Rivalries and Interstellar Cold Wars

Welcome to the second installment of “Message Fiction: Politics in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Literature!” In the introductory post I outlined a framework for analyzing the political messages encoded into SF/F, talked a bit about what I personally like and dislike when it comes to political messaging, and explored the politics of Glen Cook’s trailblazing military fantasy novel The Black Company (1984).

This month we pivot from fantasy to science fiction, but retain the thematic focus on war and the regular folks who fight them—with an in-depth discussion of Dan Abnett’s 2011 novel Embedded.

(Warning: some spoilers.)

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