Perhaps the worst casualty of war is potential. Britain’s lost generation, the millions who died in the advances of WWII, the sons consumed by Vietnam (on both sides). It’s something that haunts every culture who faces war, something that makes us question and protest war’s beginning and continuation. It’s a sacrifice of the highest order.
So, it makes sense that when we start wandering around the stars, we’re going to look for a way around it. That’s what happens in Scalzi’s debut novel “Old Man’s War”: the minimum age of enlistment in interstellar war is 75. The men and women who join up have already had children and lives, are retired, and are probably a drain on society anyway. They’re those who are not yet dead. So it makes sense that neither they nor the rest of the planet would oppose a war in which only they were expected to fight.
Functionally speaking, this means that the novel is full of characters who are old, but suddenly young (I won’t tell you how). It’s an odd situation, and grounds for both hilarious comedy and some serious meditation. Also some cool combat scenes.
But the implication that stalks the novel, that lives in the subtext between or after battles, is that the human race seems to be engaged in a “Forever War” situation with a ton of races. Would we be doing that, if we were being asked to sacrifice anything?
More and more, this is becoming a truly serious question. If the aggressor is not asked to sacrifice its own, does that make war more likely? How could it not? If we’re being asked to send the terminally ill to war, or if it’s always “someone else’s son,” or if the only thing we lose is machinery, what would that mean for war?
PS I went in a really weighty direction with this one, but seriously, the book’s fun as hell and piles of awesomeness.