By Noah Robischon
January 31, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

EW reviews the latest sci-fi books

OLD MAN’S WAR, John Scalzia

On his 75th birthday, John Perry joins other retirees in the alien-fighting Colonial Defense Forces in exchange for a life extension.
Best Gadget A PDA: ”When I press this button…your sensor array will begin transmitting your brain activity; we’ll broadcast your consciousness into your new brain.”
Lowdown War’s thought-provoking first half overrides the sometimes cartoonish alien battles at the end. B+

CLEOPATRA 7.2, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

The Queen of the Nile is reincarnated (again) into the body of an archaeologist/Coptic Christian women’s libber who must survive a terrorist plot to reclaim power.
Best Gadget The blending chamber: ”Wizards, scholars, and scientists have devised the means of reviving our ba [body] and embodying it in the flesh of our hostesses.”
LowdownThe convoluted plot veers from thriller to fantasy, and needs major excavation. C-

HAMMERED, Elizabeth Bear

Half-machine Canadian special forces vet Jenny Casey tracks a deadly drug on the gangland streets of Hartford, Conn.
Best Gadget Nanosurgically attached prostheses: ”These people feel more, hear more, and the levels of information the enhancements provide have provoked some of them into a hypersensitivity syndrome resembling autism.”
Lowdown Bear is talented, but this debut starts more good ideas than it finishes. B-


On the newly colonized planet Coyote, political dissidents led by Robert E. Lee wage guerrilla warfare against a repressive Earth government.
Best Gadget Savants: ”persons who’d chosen to have their minds down-loaded into mechanical forms, eschewing their human bodies for virtual immortality as cyborgs.”
Lowdown An epic take on the challenges of starting a spacefaring civilization that would make Robert A. Heinlein proud. A-