I’m delaying my game-system flavor post again due to overexcitement. You see, I finished Old Man’s War yesterday and I just had to share my thoughts with you. In case you were wondering, I also started Old Man’s War yesterday. What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been better put by Cory Doctorow and Ken MacLeod? I suppose I’ll start with, “I was silly not to read this ages ago, because it’s really damn good.”
Seriously, this book has been sitting on my reading list for years, ever since my brother Nate suggested that I should read it soon after it came out in 2005. At the time, I had no idea who John Scalzi was or why I should like his work, and the title and concept simply didn’t grab me. Apart from the prodigious numbers of recommendations I had received telling me to read the book (and my growing infatuation with Scalzi’s writing), not that much had changed as of yesterday. Then I opened the book and read the first few pages, and boom, I was gone.
I really should have expected that something like this would happen again, given how I felt about Agent to the Stars and Redshirts, but I was once more taken by surprise and pulled right into the deep end. I barely came up for air, and dove through the book in the course of several hours. The short take? Read it. My more considered opinion? Read on…
Bye bye Boromir.
I love Boromir. I know I’m not the only one who does. And however much I like Boromir when he’s alive, there’s something that’s almost even more (tragically) appealing about him dead. This is less because I like his ruggedly handsome corpse, and more because of what Homer touched on thousands of years ago: in his death, because of how he died, Boromir becomes something more than he was in life. Boromir had what we might call a good death. Key to this, Boromir dies before he truly succumbs to the power of the Ring, and in his death he tries to make up for some of the mistakes that he has made previously. His act of self-sacrifice protecting the Ring-bearer is a fairly hefty weight in his favor on the scales of Judgement, making up for some of his earlier errors. Interestingly enough for such a perilous setting, he is also the only member of the Fellowship to die and stay dead.
It turns out that that single heroic death is pretty standard. Most stories, like most role-playing games, don’t have lots of character death. In reality, people engaging in the same activities that most adventurers and main characters pursue with wild abandon have a fairly high casualty rate. People are killed while fighting, they’re permanently injured, they get sick… and in many cases, their deaths and debilities feel meaningless. For every handful of people that die doing something we would idolize as heroic, far more are killed or injured in an almost banal fashion. Would we feel the same way about Boromir’s death if he had, I don’t know, been killed without having a chance to fight back? Stepped on a landmine? Slipped in the shower and broken his neck?