From the New York Times bestselling author:
John Scalzi's Old Man's War: now in a boxed set!
Includes one copy each of:
Old Man's War (978-0-7653-4827-2, $7.99/$9.99)
The Ghost Brigades (978-7653-5406-8, $7.99/$9.99)
The Last Colony (978-0-7653-5618-5, $7.99/$9.99)
About the Author
JOHN SCALZI is one of the most popular and acclaimed SF authors to emerge in the last decade. His massively successful debut Old Man's War won him science fiction's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His New York Times bestsellers include The Last Colony, Fuzzy Nation, and Redshirts; which won 2013's Hugo Award for Best Novel. Material from his widely read blog The Whatever (whatever.scalzi.com) has also earned him two other Hugo Awards. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
Old Man's War Boxed Set
By John Scalzi
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 John Scalzi
All rights reserved.
I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.
Visiting Kathy's grave was the less dramatic of the two.
She's buried in Harris Creek Cemetery, not more than a mile down the road from where I live and where we raised our family. Getting her into the cemetery was more difficult than perhaps it should have been; neither of us expected needing the burial, so neither of us made the arrangements. It's somewhat mortifying, to use a rather apt word, to have to argue with a cemetery manager about your wife not having made a reservation to be buried. Eventually my son, Charlie, who happens to be mayor, cracked a few heads and got the plot. Being the father of the mayor has its advantages.
So, the grave. Simple and unremarkable, with one of those small markers instead of a big headstone. As a contrast, Kathy lies next to Sandra Cain, whose rather oversized headstone is polished black granite, with Sandy's high school photo and some maudlin quote from Keats about the death of youth and beauty sandblasted into the front. That's Sandy all over. It would have amused Kathy to know Sandra was parked next to her with her big dramatic headstone; all their lives Sandy nurtured an entertainingly passive-aggressive competition with her. Kathy would come to the local bake sale with a pie, Sandy would bring three and simmer, not so subtly, if Kathy's pie sold first. Kathy would attempt to solve the problem by preemptively buying one of Sandy's pies. It's hard to say whether this actually made things better or worse, from Sandy's point of view.
I suppose Sandy's headstone could be considered the last word in the matter, a final show-up that could not be rebutted, because, after all, Kathy was already dead. On the other hand, I don't actually recall anyone visiting Sandy. Three months after Sandy passed, Steve Cain sold the house and moved to Arizona with a smile as wide as Interstate 10 plastered on his skull. He sent me a postcard some time later; he was shacking up with a woman down there who had been a porn star fifty years earlier. I felt unclean for a week after getting that bit of information. Sandy's kids and grandkids live one town over, but they might as well be in Arizona for as often as they visit. Sandy's Keats quote probably hadn't been read by anyone since the funeral but me, in passing, as I move the few feet over to my wife.
Kathy's marker has her name (Katherine Rebecca Perry), her dates, and the words: BELOVED WIFE AND MOTHER. I read those words over and over every time I visit. I can't help it; they are four words that so inadequately and so perfectly sum up a life. The phrase tells you nothing about her, about how she met each day or how she worked, about what her interests were or where she liked to travel. You'd never know what her favorite color was, or how she liked to wear her hair, or how she voted, or what her sense of humor was. You'd know nothing about her except that she was loved. And she was. She'd think that was enough.
I hate visiting here. I hate that my wife of forty-two years is dead, that one minute one Saturday morning she was in the kitchen, mixing a bowl of waffle batter and talking to me about the dustup at the library board meeting the night before, and the next minute she was on the floor, twitching as the stroke tore through her brain. I hate that her last words were "Where the hell did I put the vanilla."
I hate that I've become one of those old men who visits a cemetery to be with his dead wife. When I was (much) younger I used to ask Kathy what the point would be. A pile of rotting meat and bones that used to be a person isn't a person anymore; it's just a pile of rotting meat and bones. The person is gone — off to heaven or hell or wherever or nowhere. You might as well visit a side of beef. When you get older you realize this is still the case. You just don't care. It's what you have.
For as much as I hate the cemetery, I've been grateful it's here, too. I miss my wife. It's easier to miss her at a cemetery, where she's never been anything but dead, than to miss her in all the places where she was alive.
I didn't stay long; I never do. Just long enough to feel the stab that's still fresh enough after most of eight years, the one that also serves to remind me that I've got other things to do than to stand around in a cemetery like an old, damned fool. Once I felt it, I turned around and left and didn't bother looking around. This was the last time I would ever visit the cemetery or my wife's grave, but I didn't want to expend too much effort in trying to remember it. As I said, this is the place where she's never been anything but dead. There's not much value in remembering that.
Although come to think of it, signing up for the army wasn't all that dramatic either.
My town was too small for its own recruiting office. I had to drive into Greenville, the county seat, to sign up. The recruiting office was a small storefront in a nondescript strip mall; there was a state liquor authority store on one side of it and a tattoo parlor on the other. Depending on what order you went into each, you could wake up the next morning in some serious trouble.
The inside of the office was even less appealing, if that's possible. It consisted of a desk with a computer and a printer, a human behind that desk, two chairs in front of the desk and six chairs lining a wall. A small table in front of those chairs held recruiting information and some back issues of Time and Newsweek. Kathy and I had been in here a decade earlier, of course; I suspect nothing had been moved, much less changed, and that included the magazines. The human appeared to be new. At least I don't remember the previous recruiter having that much hair. Or breasts.
The recruiter was busy typing something on the computer and didn't bother to look up as I came in. "Be right with you," she muttered, by way of a more or less Pavlovian response to the door opening.
"Take your time," I said. "I know the place is packed." This attempt at marginally sarcastic humor went ignored and unappreciated, which has been par for the course for the last few years; good to see I had not lost my form. I sat down in front of the desk and waited for the recruiter to finish whatever she was doing.
"You coming or going?" she asked, still without actually looking up at me.
"Pardon me?" I said.
"Coming or going," she repeated. "Coming in to do your Intent to Join sign-up, or going out to start your term?"
"Ah. Going out, please."
This finally got her to look at me, squinting out through a rather severe pair of glasses.
"You're John Perry," she said.
"That's me. How did you guess?"
She looked back to her computer. "Most people who want to enlist come in on their birthday, even though they have thirty days afterward to formally enlist. We only have three birthdays today. Mary Valory already called to say she won't be going. And you don't look like you'd be Cynthia Smith."
"I'm gratified to hear that," I said.
"And since you're not coming in for an initial sign-up," she continued, ignoring yet another stab at humor, "it stands to reason you're John Perry."
"I could just be a lonely old man wandering around looking for conversation," I said.
"We don't get many of those around here," she said. "They tend to be scared off by the kids next door with the demon tattoos." She finally pushed her keyboard away and gave me her full attention. "Now, then. Let's see some ID, please."
"But you already know who I am," I reminded her.
"Let's be sure," she said. There was not even the barest hint of a smile when she said this. Dealing with garrulous old farts every day had apparently taken its toll.
I handed over my driver's license, birth certificate and national identity card. She took them, reached into her desk for a handpad, plugged it into the computer and slid it over to me. I placed my hand on it palm down and waited for the scan to finish. She took the pad and slid my ID card down the side to match the print information. "You're John Perry," she said, finally.
"And now we're back where we started," I said.
She ignored me again. "Ten years ago during your Intent to Join orientation session, you were provided information concerning the Colonial Defense Forces, and the obligations and duties you would assume by joining the CDF," she said, in the tone of voice which indicated that she said this at least once a day, every day, most of her working life. "Additionally, in the interim period, you have been sent refresher materials to remind you of the obligations and duties you would be assuming.
"At this point, do you need additional information or a refresher presentation, or do you declare that you fully understand the obligations and duties you are about to assume? Be aware there is no penalty either for asking for refresher materials or opting not to join the CDF at this time."
I recalled the orientation session. The first part consisted of a bunch of senior citizens sitting on folding chairs at the Greenville Community Center, eating donuts and drinking coffee and listening to a CDF apparatchik drone on about the history of human colonies. Then he handed out pamphlets on CDF service life, which appeared to be much like military life anywhere. During the question and answer session we found out he wasn't actually in the CDF; he'd just been hired to provide presentations in the Miami valley area.
The second part of the orientation session was a brief medical exam — a doctor came in and took blood, swabbed the inside of my cheek to dislodge some cells, and gave me a brain scan. Apparently I passed. Since then, the pamphlet I was provided at the orientation session was sent to me once a year through the mail. I started throwing it out after the second year. I hadn't read it since.
"I understand," I said.
She nodded, reached into her desk, pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, and handed both to me. The paper held several paragraphs, each with a space for a signature underneath. I recognized the paper; I had signed another, very similar paper ten years earlier to indicate that I understood what I would be getting into a decade in the future.
"I'm going to read to you each of the following paragraphs," she said. "At the end of each paragraph, if you understand and accept what has been read to you, please sign and date on the line immediately following the paragraph. If you have questions, please ask them at the end of each paragraph reading. If you do not subsequently understand or do not accept what has been read and explained to you, do not sign. Do you understand?"
"I understand," I said.
"Very good," she said. "Paragraph one: I the undersigned acknowledge and understand that I am freely and of my own will and without coercion volunteering to join the Colonial Defense Forces for a term of service of not less than two years in length. I additionally understand that the term of service may be extended unilaterally by the Colonial Defense Forces for up to eight additional years in times of war and duress."
This "ten years total" extension clause was not news to me — I did read the information I was sent, once or twice — although I wondered how many people glossed over it, and of those who didn't, how many people actually thought they'd be stuck in the service ten years. My feeling on it was that the CDF wouldn't ask for ten years if it didn't feel it was going to need them. Because of the Quarantine Laws, we don't hear much about colonial wars. But what we do hear is enough to know it's not peacetime out there in the universe.
"Paragraph two: I understand that by volunteering to join the Colonial Defense Forces, I agree to bear arms and to use them against the enemies of the Colonial Union, which may include other human forces. I may not during the term of my service refuse to bear and use arms as ordered or cite religious or moral objections to such actions in order to avoid combat service."
How many people volunteer for an army and then claim conscientious objector status? I signed.
"Paragraph three: I understand and agree that I will faithfully and with all deliberate speed execute orders and directives provided to me by superior officers, as provided for in the Uniform Code of Colonial Defense Forces Conduct."
"Paragraph four: I understand that by volunteering for the Colonial Defense Forces, I consent to whatsoever medical, surgical or therapeutic regimens or procedures are deemed necessary by the Colonial Defense Forces to enhance combat readiness."
Here it was: Why I and countless other seventy-five-year-olds signed up every year.
I once told my grandfather that by the time I was his age they'd have figured out a way to dramatically extend the human life span. He laughed at me and told me that's what he had assumed, too, and yet there he was, an old man anyway. And here I am as well. The problem with aging is not that it's one damn thing after another — it's every damn thing, all at once, all the time.
You can't stop aging. Gene therapies and replacement organs and plastic surgery give it a good fight. But it catches up with you anyway. Get a new lung, and your heart blows a valve. Get a new heart, and your liver swells up to the size of an inflatable kiddie pool. Change out your liver, a stroke gives you a whack. That's aging's trump card; they still can't replace brains.
Life expectancy climbed up near the ninety-year mark a while back, and that's where it's been ever since. We eked out almost another score from the "three score and ten" and then God seems to have put his foot down. People can live longer, and do live longer — but they still live those years as an old person. Nothing much has ever changed about that.
Look, you: When you're twenty-five, thirty-five, forty-five or even fifty-five, you can still feel good about your chances to take on the world. When you're sixty-five and your body is looking down the road at imminent physical ruin, these mysterious "medical, surgical and therapeutic regimens and procedures" begin to sound interesting. Then you're seventy-five, friends are dead, and you've replaced at least one major organ; you have to pee four times a night, and you can't go up a flight of stairs without being a little winded — and you're told you're in pretty good shape for your age.
Trading that in for a decade of fresh life in a combat zone begins to look like a hell of a bargain. Especially because if you don't, in a decade you'll be eighty-five, and then the only difference between you and a raisin will be that while you're both wrinkled and without a prostate, the raisin never had a prostate to begin with.
So how does the CDF manage to reverse the flow of aging? No one down here knows. Earthside scientists can't explain how they do it, and can't replicate their successes, though it's not for the lack of trying. The CDF doesn't operate on-planet, so you can't ask a CDF veteran. However, the CDF only recruits on-planet, so the colonists don't know, either, even if you could ask them, which you can't. Whatever therapies the CDF performs are done off-world, in the CDF's own authority zones, away from the purview of global and national governments. So no help from Uncle Sam or anyone else.
Every once in a while, a legislature or president or dictator decides to ban CDF recruiting until it reveals its secrets. The CDF never argues; it packs up and goes. Then all the seventy-five-year-olds in that country take long international vacations from which they never return. The CDF offers no explanations, no rationales, no clues. If you want to find out how they make people young again, you have to sign up.
"Paragraph five: I understand that by volunteering for the Colonial Defense Forces, I am terminating my citizenship in my national political entity, in this case the United States of America, and also the Residential Franchise that allows me to reside on the planet Earth. I understand that my citizenship will henceforth be transferred generally to the Colonial Union and specifically to the Colonial Defense Forces. I further recognize and understand that by terminating my local citizenship and planetary Residential Franchise, I am barred from subsequent return to Earth and, upon completion of my term of service within the Colonial Defense Forces, will be relocated to whatsoever colony I am allotted by the Colonial Union and/or the Colonial Defense Forces."
More simply put: You can't go home again. This is part and parcel of the Quarantine Laws, which were imposed by the Colonial Union and the CDF, officially at least, to protect Earth from any more xenobiological disasters like The Crimp. Folks on the Earth were all for it at the time. Funny how insular a planet will become when a third of its male population permanently loses its fertility within the space of a year. People here are less enthused about it now — they've gotten bored with Earth and want to see the rest of the universe, and they've forgotten all about childless Great Uncle Walt. But the CU and CDF are the only ones with spaceships that have the skip drives that make interstellar travel possible. So there it is.
Excerpted from Old Man's War Boxed Set by John Scalzi. Copyright © 2014 John Scalzi. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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