John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First, he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army.
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce - and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So, we fight, to defend Earth and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.
Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don't want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you'll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea of what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine. And what he will become is far stranger.
"In this room right now are 1,022 recruits," Lt. Colonel Higgee said.
"Two years from today, 400 of you will be dead."
Higgee stood in the front of the theater, again. This time, he had a
backdrop: Beta Pyxis III floated behind him, a massive marble streaked
with blue, white, green and brown
"In the third year," he continued, "another 100 of you will die. Another
150 in years four and five. After ten years -- and yes, recruits, you
will most likely be required to serve a full ten years -- 750 of you
have been killed in the line of duty. Three quarters of you, gone. These
have been the survival statistics -- not just for the last ten or twenty
years, but for the over two hundred years the Colonial Defense Forces
have been active."
There was dead silence.
"I know what you're thinking right now, because I was thinking it when I
was in your place," Lt. Colonel Higgee said. "You're thinking -- what
the hell am I doing here? This guy is telling me I'm going to be dead in
ten years! But remember that back home, you most likely would have been
dead in ten years, too -- frail and old, dying a useless death. You may
die in the Colonial Defense Forces. You probably will die in the
Colonial Defense Forces. But your death will not be a useless one.
You'll have died to keep humanity alive in our universe."
Excerpted from "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi. Copyright © 2007 by John Scalzi. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.