Definitely an enjoyable read. A nice mix of philosophical and humorous observations, especially in the beginning, manage to capture the tone of an older person looking back on a long life.
The beginning starts with John, the main character, entering a recruiter’s office to review and sign his enlistment contract. It is a marvelous device, allowing John’s internal commentary and reactions to provide needed background to the current political and technological setting. Scalzi‘s straightforward writing structure dovetails nicely with the factual tone the narrator originally takes in describing the journey on the recruit ship and the interactions with his shipmates. After undergoing his transformation, John loses a little of his emotional distance, gaining excitement with his new abilities. Scalzi’s pseudo-informational promotional material regarding the BrainPal captures the humor of corporate-speak, but it’s his scenes with the Master Sergeant that had me laughing out loud. His final words of praise: “Don’t let it go to your head, Private. You are still a dipshit. Just not a very big one.”
I found the introduction to new races to contain most of what I enjoy in space-roving books. I enjoyed the training segments and initial skirmishes and only wished they could be more fully described. It’s always a challenge depicting a character’s transformational process; while training can be repetitive, it’s hard to believe the transformation into elite status unless details are shown. I felt the one awkwardness in the book was the section with the invasion of the Whaidians and Bender’s efforts at diplomacy. Scalzi raises interesting philosophical issues that are somewhat at odds with the rest of the book, and are never really able to be resolved. Why isn’t diplomacy pursued to a greater extent?
Nonetheless, the rest of the story is well constructed, and Scalzi surprised me with integrating an emotional thread into the armed services experience. It was a satisfying read, and enough to lead me to his next book.
“They are four words that so inadequately and so perfectly sum up a life.”