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WesternSFA


The Human Division
Old Man's War, Book 5
by John Scalzi
Tor, $9.99, 431pp
Published: January 2013

In the first book we learned that humans have spread all over the universe but rather than an idyllic galaxy-wide confederation of trade, it’s all they can do just to stay alive.  Turns out the humans have lots of competition for prime real estate.  The Colonial Defense Forces are the only thing standing between human colonies and all the alien-uglies trying to kill them to take away a planet.  What makes this story stand apart is a clever twist:  rather than recruiting from young people and destroying generations in sometimes hopeless battles; they recruit from seniors who have lived their full lives and are on the down-hill slide.  The recruitment is simple and irresistible:  on your 75th birthday, you can choose to join the CDF for a minimum two-year term of service, not to exceed ten years; and, in return, they will make you young again.  There are, of course, catches.  They will never return to Earth, they will never see friends or family again; and, no one on Earth has the slightest idea how the promise of youth is fulfilled. Oh, and they’ll probably die.

Lt. Harry Wilson is still assigned to Ambassador Abumwe’s team when their ship the Clarke is sent to finish negotiations with a race called the Utche.  They aren’t the A-list diplomatic team but they’re the closest ones with the skill set to pick up where the previous team left off.  The previous team and the entire ship they were assigned to having gone completely missing.  When the Clarke arrives at the rendezvous to meet the Utche, Harry discovers first that the previous ship, the Polk, had been destroyed by one of the Colonial Union’s own missiles; and that another one was just sitting there and apparently waiting for something. After discovering four more missiles and concluding that they are waiting in ambush for the Utche, Harry hatches a plan to destroy the missiles before the Utche arrive.  The intent was, they think, to frame the Colonial Union.

Meanwhile two major intelligence operatives, one from the Colonial Union(CU) and one from the Colonial Defense Forces(CDF) are becoming convinced that there is a concerted effort by an unknown group to deliberately goad the Colonials and the Conclave into a war.  A war that they are sure humanity will not survive.  Since the Earth is now royally pissed at how the Colonial Union managed them for so many generations, they aren’t likely to listen to anything the CU might tell them. The CDF is also faced with the fact that their ranks are going to be severely depleted without new recruits from Earth and they won’t become any more popular with the colonies once they tell the colonies they have to supply recruits.  And on top of all that, the colonies are now beginning to believe they would be better off declaring their independence.  But intel suggests they are being led down that path by this unknown group who is manipulating everyone.  The trick is going to be getting both the Conclave and Earth to listen to the intel and not believe the evidence being manipulated to keep them all at each other’s throats.  And the evidence to the CU is that the Conclave are attacking and destroying their ships; while to the Conclave their missing ships are the fault of the CDF.

But the real surprise comes when Harry’s ship the Clarke are fired upon by a Conclave ship but then saved by another Conclave ship.  The ship doing the firing was a Conclave ship that had gone missing.  And their savior is none other than the second-in-command of the Conclave, Sorvahl. When the two groups board the missing ship, the mystery deepens.  There isn’t a single living soul onboard.  But the ship itself has a lot to say, beginning with it introducing itself.  And with this introduction, the Conclave and the CDF now know what’s being done with all their missing ships and what it means to their plans for peace.

Harry is on Earth Station making a diplomatic effort to repair the CU’s ties to Earth when the Station is attacked.  The attack is enormously successful; destroying the space elevator completely and severely damaging the Station. All of the attacking ships were Conclave ships that had gone missing; one was damaged and captured – it also had no living souls aboard.  The two intel officers are more convinced than ever that someone is deliberately targeting Earth, the CU and the Conclave while making it look like they are attacking each other.  Someone is determined to cause an interstellar war.

This was a lot more fun than the last two books.  Much more exciting and the plot was more complex.  The mysteries are starting to pile on and Harry now has a love interest.  The maturity of the writing was evident.  And since it ended on a cliff hanger, I’m very eager to get into the last book of the series.  ~~ Catherine Book

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