7 Things You Might Not Know About John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War

scalzi old man's war

Though the John Harris spaceship covers are iconic, did you know the original cover for Old Man’s War featured an actual old man?

John Scalzi is one of the most successful sci-fi writers of the modern age—a status he cemented when he signed a $3.4 million, 13-book deal with Tor in 2015. Where most writers rarely get more than a few books to a deal, Scalzi is locked up for the next decade, and that’s quite an achievement. And a well-deserved one—he’s one of the most imaginative, accessible, and fun SFF writers working today, a fact demonstrated nowhere better than in his Old Man’s War series, which combines great military action and twisty plotting with huge SFnal ideas. Yet despite the books’ popularity, you may not know all there is to know about them—unless you’re as rabid a reader of Scalzi’s blog as his literary offerings. Here are seven things you might not know about Old Man’s War and its sequels.

It Was Inspired by a Professional Setback
These days, “Scalzi” is practically shorthand for “successful blogger-turned novelist.” Back in 1998, however, there was no Whatever, and Scalzi was working at (’90s alert!) America Online as an editor and writer. As Scalzi himself tells it, he took great pride in his job and it was the basis for his identity as a writer—so when he was laid off, it was quite a shock. He had to “reinvest” in being a writer and recalibrate his approach to the craft. The most immediate consequence was Whatever; Scalzi is one of the most successful of the still-producing bloggers who got started back when blogs were the New Coke. But the upheaval in his career also indirectly led him to take a serious crack at writing fiction, which led him to publish two novels on his blog, which led to Old Man’s War getting discovered by an editor for Tor Books, which led to a Hugo nomination, and all that followed.

It’s More than the Novels
It’s hard to describe some of the books in the Old Man’s War series. While Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale are novels, The Human Division and The End of All Things also existed as a series of standalone-yet-interconnected short stories. Beyond that, there are three short works that add depth and backstory: Questions for a Soldier, The Sagan Diary, and After the Coup. While the shorter works aren’t absolutely necessary on a plot level, reading them definitely adds dimension to the universe of the series.

It’s a Conscious Homage to Starship Troopers
Scalzi hasn’t been shy about his ultimate inspiration for the books, and that’s a good thing, because they wear the influence of Robert A. Heinlein on their sleeve. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how Old Man’s War is in many ways an update and reimagining of Starship Troopers, from the enticement to join a military service (citizenship in Heinlein, new life in Scalzi), to the inhuman alien species the soldiers battle against. If you’ve read one but not the other, do yourself a favor and fill in that blank, pronto.

The Series is Packed with References
The references go way beyond Heinlein. Scalzi is a clever, clever man, and his sci-fi knowledge runs deep. Many of the names in the series—from the characters, to the species, to the equipment they use—are references to other writers or books. Some of the best examples are a recruit in the first book named Gaiman, Gamerans named Stross and Martin in The Ghost Brigades, the aliens called the Finwe, and the software known as the Blue Pill (that last bit is especially hilarious if you’re at all aware of Scalzi’s encounters with his non-fans in some of the darker corners of the internet.)

One of Its Sequels was Written as a Course Correction
Scalzi admits that the inspiration for Zoe’s Tale came in part from a desire to solve some plot problems in The Last Colony. He knew that the conclusion of that book might be taken as a deus ex machina-level cheat, and he knew that some readers wondered about a certain alien species called “werewolves” that showed up briefly and then disappeared. Zoe’s Tale was written specifically to address those issues.

It Has Been on TV
Okay, not exactly—the books have never been adapted. But the physical book Old Man’s War appeared on an episode of Stargate Universe. Scalzi worked as a creative consultant for the show throughout its run, and in season one, one of the characters holds up a paperback copy to show what he’s reading. You can see a screenshot here.

It’s Still Being Developed for TV
And yet, it might actually make it to TV after all. Old Man’s War is a wildly successful book series with a dedicated fanbase, so logically, it has been in development as a film or TV show for years. It was initially optioned for film in 2011, and for the last few years Syfy has been trying to develop it as a TV series—after a fashion, anyway; the proposed series would take its name and certain plot elements from OMW sequel The Ghost Brigades. Most recently, Scalzi announced they had a script but had brought in writers to tweak it. At this rate, we might all be old men (and women) before we get to watch the show, but watch it we will.

Did we tell you anything you didn’t know about Old Man’s War? What are we forgetting?

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