Old Man's War

There are a lot of pluses to having bright kids who share your interests but sometimes it can be rather annoying. I was at the bookstore the other day, ostensibly to buy another copy of John Hodgeman's wonderful book The Areas of My Expertise as a gift to a friend, and ended up getting a few other books also, including Old Man's War, a book by John Scalzi I'd been meaning to read for the last year or so. Mind you I didn't want to read it because of the genre, military science fiction is not usually my cup of tea; I wanted it because it's been recommended to me by several people I respect and because I've been reading Scalzi's blog off and on and he's funny, interesting, and intelligent. I brought the book home and it promptly vanished, only to appear again a day later when my son started pushing it in front of me and chanting, "read!" every few minutes. This is high praise indeed because he knew I meant to read it soon anyway, so I dropped everything and started reading and was immediately carried away by the best book I've read this year.

"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army." That's the voice of John Perry, the main character in Old Man's War. He has the choice of living out the rest of his life on Earth, getting a little more decrepit every year, or joining the Colonial Defense Force, becoming younger through a mysterious, secretive process and fighting to protect humanity from the alien life forces that want to colonize the same planets humans want. A former writer about to become a high tech soldier, he has no way of knowing just how strange and different his life will be or how much it will change him, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Scalzi has created a wonderful story with enough hard science, technical, and military detail as well as fascinating, tough and compassionate characters to satisfy any reader. The science isn't overwhelming, at one point a character explains a little about quantum universes and the ship's skip drive, the method of travel between planets, and constantly assures his listeners they "don't have the math" to understand the whys and not to worry about it, just to groove on the results and what it means for them. The book never talks down or pontificates, it's simply a glorious, thought provoking, space adventure filled with peril and people you wish were your own friends. My son was absolutely right, this is a drop everything and sit down and read now book.

Banned Book Week, a program put together by the American Library Association to celebrate our freedom to read and make our own reading choices, starts tomorrow and this year Google has created a tool to help us learn about some of these challenged or banned books, specifically the 42 that are from the Radcliffe Publishing Course list of 100 best novels of the 20th century. You can browse the books themselves or other books written about them. Some of the books on the list of 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990 - 2000 have appeared in this very column, including the Harry Potter series and Catcher in the Rye. I've personally read 36 of the novels on the list and I'm baffled that anyone could complain about some of them, like Where's Waldo, which strikes me as pretty innocuous. You can find out more about what challenged or banned means, and why some people object to these books and want to take them away from everyone, everywhere, by going to the ALA website.

For this week's one sentence review we cheat and have a THREE-line review of the small, independent movie, Half Nelson: In this low budget independent movie, crack has a full-Nelson on a Brooklyn schoolteacher who tries to 'stay focused' by teaching the history of civil rights to urban middle schoolers. Decent flick and a good performance by Ryan Gosling as the crackhead teacher, but toward the end the movie meanders a bit too much and doesn't know how to end. The actors playing the students are great, especially, the female lead whose name Georgiana Lee can look up for me. -- Lu A.P. Oloum (I believe the actress in question is Shareeka Epps.) Have you got a one-sentence review you’d like to submit to Quality Time? Send it in to me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com and I'll run the best ones. You may focus on just about anything that fits a family entertainment format; games, movies, books, music - the sky is the limit, or is it? Want to review the status of poor ex-planet Pluto? Go right ahead.