L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

31 July 2006 Blog Home : July 2006 : Permalink

De Gustibus Non Disputandum

John Scalzi has a nice balancing post about being an author, where he points to two recent reviews one positive and one not. Since I liked Old Man's War a lot I tend to go with the first reviewers but I found the second review to be more interesting because I found that I disagreeed with a very great deal of it.

I am nearly done reading "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi and am puzzled as to how it got nominated. Am I missing something? I mean aside from the obvious high regard that everyone still has for Heinlein. Is that why this is on the list?

Firstly, and this is something I have seen elsewhere, I thought the parallels with Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers, to be a pile of crud. OK so Heinlein wrote Military SF, this book is Military SF, and both have thought about the science. Now it is possible that I read rather more SF of a military bent than many people, but given the fact that the title is Old Man's War would it not be better to look at other people who have talked about old people and war. I can't think of that many books but one that did was Larry Niven's Protector (and other related tales). Of course as I recall, Niven isn't particularly humerous whereas Scalzi has moments of biting wit which caused me to laugh out loud.

Anyway the next paragraph is worse as far as I am concerned

I realize now that beginning to read this book the same day I finished "Accelerando" was certainly a mistake but it's giving me a serious case of the blahs. I don't hate it, it's not terrible or anything, I just can't find anything in it that impresses me particularly or that I haven't seen elsewhere. In fact I wondered for a bit whether Scalzi might be a non-SF author coming to the genre with a bag full of tropes he didn't know we'd seen before. To be fair it is a first novel.

I have yet to succeed in reading Accelerando. I'm converting it into a Baen/Webscription format eBook to see if I find it easier to read in that form, but so far its Accelerando that gives me the blahs whereas OMW certainly did not. I also rather disagree with the "bag full of tropes we've seen before" deal. There are very few writers who come up with something completely new these days and Scalzi had some interesting twists on the base concepts that I haven't seen before - such as the Old Man part. More importantly he told the tale well with deft touches of humour to highlight the sadder parts and a nice line in characterization.

The penultimate para is just as dissonant:

It's not the subgenre, I've read and enjoyed Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series and other military SF. I loved the Haldeman's Forever War and Forever Peace. And it's not like I dislike Heinlein, for that matter.

I found Haldeman to be OK and have enjoyed many Elizabeth Moon books (e.g. Paksenarrion and the Speed of Dark) but the Vatta series has left me distinctly underwhelmed. I left one of the Vatta books on an airplane and I haven't missed it. Its the sort of book that I'll probably buy second hand sometime when a bit more of the series has been written (book three just out IIRC) but if I wanted a series to describe as "I don't hate it, it's not terrible or anything, I just can't find anything in it that impresses me particularly or that I haven't seen elsewhere." it would be that not Old Man War.

Still aside from the bad Latin I can agree with the last bit:

I feel kinda bad at how underwhelmed I am. Then again, I truly hated a few of the short fiction nominees, so... "de gustibum"

Its a good and healthy thing that we like different things but it is rare that I find myself in such total disagreement with someone, especially when they also like reading SF. De Gustibus indeed

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin