The first half of the book could almost be read like a post-Vietnam Starship Troopers, complete with basic training, exotic enemies and first battle fears. But the tone shifts as the plot progresses. As Perry becomes less green (and there’s a pun here that only those who have read the book will get), the story shifts into a spectrum that feels like that of Heinlein’s later years, when he was pondering the meanings of love and family. But Scalzi succeeds where Heinlein failed. Instead of simply becoming one long, lusty fantasy, Scalzi digs to find how our connections influence who we are as well as who we become without them. It’s good, thought-provoking stuff. While not really “stunning,” as the cover tease proclaims, it is a delightful read that kicks the pants off of most of what’s out there.
The reviewer has two quibbles: first with the “Ghost Brigades,” and second with the cover art, which she feels is not entirely representational of the book. I understand the quibble with the Ghost Brigades, because their existence on the surface seems to be in opposition to the rationale for recruiting 75-year-olds back on Earth. However, I do expect to resolve the apparent contradiction (or at least explain it) in The Ghost Brigades, which is the upcoming novel in the OMW universe. We’ll see if I can pull it off.
The cover art is more complicated, and since it had almost nothing to do with me in its concept and execution (just because it’s the cover of my book doesn’t mean I was involved — welcome to being a writer!), I’m happy to talk about it. It’s an interesting topic.
I have to admit that when I first saw it I was not entirely sure about it myself; I liked it, quite a bit (as I’ve made no secret of), and I was glad it wasn’t the typical “military SF” sort of cover, with a stern-looking toughie in space armor shouldering a gun so large that the center of gravity between the two would be two feet in front of the soldier’s body. At the same time, I wasn’t entirely sure if it hit the right tone. But since I myself had no idea what I wanted for the cover, I decided to trust my art director and publisher, like a good newbie author should.
This was a good decision on my part. Cover art isn’t only a nice picture, it’s also explicitly commercial art, with the intent of differentiating one’s book from the thousands of other books in the store, while at the same time not alienating the intended audience for this book: In other words, you want to grab the eye, and then convince someone to pick up the book and read the jacket copy. In this regard, I think OMW’s cover does an excellent job. I’ve described why earlier — the cover retains certain “Space Opera” tropes (lead character, front and center, supporting characters in the back), with a couple of smart features: one, the color scheme of blues and greens, which stands out in a genre that uses a lot of “hot” colors; and two, an older man on the cover, which is also an unusual occurrence (at least, without a glowing staff).
I also think there’s an interesting bit of oppositional psychology going on with the cover: The book’s title and typeface promise WAR in big block letters, but our cover guy isn’t slinging a rifle; he’s standing there looking fairly thoughtful about something (possibly about war). I think this unobtrusively telegraphs to the potential reader that the book isn’t just about the shootin’ and killin’, but may have some other things going on as well (whether it does, of course, is my department. No pressure there). This is where Irene Gallo, as art director, really shines — she’s aimed for a balance between the promise of the title (war!) and what’s suggested by the artwork (thinking!) and I think she’s hit the balance.
So: I agree with the reviewer that the cover art’s not a direct analogue with the content of the book, and that’s an eminently fair criticism. But as a piece of art with an explicitly commercial intent — get people to look at this book — I think it’s doing a pretty good job. Now if we can just get bookstores to shelve it face out, we’d be set.