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John Scalzi – The Ghost Brigades

August 26, 2011

105. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi (2006)
Old Man’s War, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. Old Man’s War

Length: 347 pages
Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 11 August 2011
Finished: 13 August 2011

Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? I enjoyed Old Man’s War hugely, and so I got my hands on the sequels as soon as possible.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 July 2011.

How can you just be
yourself when there’s someone else
hiding in your brain?

Summary: The Colonial Defense Fleet is in danger; three alien species have formed an unheard-of alliance against humanity, and they’re being helped by a traitor: Charles Boutin, one of the CDF’s top experts in consciousness transfer. Boutin’s disappeared, but he’s left behind some DNA, and a consciousness imprint. The CDF uses his DNA to grow a nes super-soldier body, the same as they do for all recruits, but when they try to implant Boutin’s consciousness, it doesn’t take. The new person, named Jared Dirac, is placed in the Ghost Brigades, the Special Forces, just like the CDF recruits whose original bodies die before the personality is transferred. His CO, Jane Sagan, is tasked to keep an eye on him, but he seems normal enough… but does he secretly have the consciousness of a traitor lurking somewhere in his brain?

Review: The Old Man’s War books contain a lot of things I don’t ordinarily like in my sci-fi. Heavy militaristic slant, a lot of battles both in space and planetside, major reliance on technology as plot points, etc. And yet, here’s the thing: Scalzi can take all that, and still make it work for me. He’s able to take what would otherwise be fairly hard sci-fi, and blend it with humor and character development and some interesting perspectives on what it takes to be human, and how you define yourself as an individual, to make something more. The result is something that’s fast paced, full of action, and totally engrossing, but with a solid emotional core.

I didn’t like The Ghost Brigades quite as much as I liked Old Man’s War, partly because the first book was such a revelation, and partly because the second book wasn’t quite as funny. There were certainly still plenty of funny bits, but Jared’s a very different person than John Perry, with a different narrative voice, one that’s more introspective and naive than Perry’s dry snarkiness. Kudos to Scalzi for creating two such interesting and sympathetic (and at least somewhat funny) narrators, though.

Apart from the shift in the sense of humor, I did really appreciate that this book wasn’t a direct continuation of Old Man’s War. Scalzi’s built a fascinating universe, and it was nice to see it expand, and to get a new perspective on it… along with plenty of hints about what’s to come in the rest of the series. I don’t think this book could be read independently – there’s little-to-no opening exposition or worldbuilding, no explanation of the whole “genetically engineering super-soldiers” tactic of the CDF – so reading them in order is required. But there’s enough overlap in characters and plot between the two books that I already felt invested in the story, even before I got to know Jared. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Read Old Man’s War first; if you enjoy it, you’ll be just as happy with this one.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, As Usual I Need More Bookshelves, Bart’s Bookshelf, Devourer of Books, A Dribble of Ink, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Medieval Bookworm, Neth Space, Stainless Steel Droppings, Stella Matutina
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: No one noticed the rock.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 256: “Jared was no expert on the Consu, but it seemed unlikely to him that a people so concerned with the ineffable and eschatological would create a people incapable of concerning themselves with either.” – any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.
    .

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2011 11:32 am

    I have been planning to read this all year, but it hasn’t happened yet. It was quite a while ago now that I read Old Man’s War, so I really need to get cracking! Glad it was good!

    • September 8, 2011 9:24 am

      Kailana – The good news is that this book isn’t super-dependent on a lot of action from Old Man’s War, so as long as you remember the basic set-up of the universe and the CDF, you should be fine. :)

  2. August 26, 2011 12:40 pm

    I just finished this book over the weekend and loved it, although I have to agree that it wasn’t quite as good as Old Man’s War. For me it was a lot of the technical explanations in the first half of the book. I wanted more action. :) But I did love the questions about identity and autonomy.

    • September 8, 2011 9:25 am

      Alyce – I was fine with the balance of techy stuff and action, but space fights were never my favorite thing to begin with.

  3. August 27, 2011 1:32 pm

    Yeah, it wasn’t my favourite in the series, but it was still an excellent read (for me, my favourite is Zoe’s Tale – incidentally a cracking audiobook as well!)

    • September 8, 2011 9:26 am

      Darren – I don’t think my library has any of Scalzi’s books on audio, which is a major shame! I’ll get there in the text versions, though.

  4. August 29, 2011 9:16 am

    I go back and forth about which book is my favorite in the series, and this one has certainly been at the top of that list for me. One thing you point out that I really enjoy about the book is that Scalzi didn’t waste a lot of time bringing the reader up to date. Old Man’s War is out there for people to read for the background for this novel and I like that it just dives right in. I didn’t mind the differences between it and OMW.

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment that Scalzi writes in a way that makes things work. I’ve heard some criticism because he is writing what on some level are homages to older SF classics and there are some in the SF community who feel all novels should be forward thinking, not looking back and trying to imitate or rework the past. I think that is all poppycock. I want to be told an entertaining story and Scalzi takes well worn SF tropes and infuses them with a contemporary sensibility and makes stories that keep the reader turning the pages. Kudos to him for doing so. I think this type of SF definitely has a place in today’s spectrum of genre novels.

    And I’ve went back and specifically sought out classic works because of what Scalzi reports as influences, so in that his fiction is doing more than just entertaining me, it is inspiring me to explore more of the roots of today’s science fiction.

    • September 8, 2011 9:29 am

      Carl – I haven’t read a lot of “classic” sci-fi, primarily because the whole humans vs. aliens shoot-em-up thing doesn’t really appeal to me… which is why I really love how Scalzi can add enough to the mix that I wind up enjoying exactly that kind of story.

      I have read Scott Westerfeld’s Risen Empire books, though, that Scalzi cites as inspiration in this book, and they’re also really good – a reworking of a lot of classic sci-fi tropes in a way that’s different from how Scalzi does it, but still really interesting and compelling.

  5. September 8, 2011 9:36 am

    You should add Metatropolis to your list to read. It is a 5 author project, including John Scalzi, where each author wrote a short story/novella set in a shared future earth. It is meant to be more positive science fiction and despite the fact that all is not sweetness and light it does work really well and there are some great stories in there.

    • September 8, 2011 9:42 am

      Oooh, how did I miss that one? It’s been wishlisted, thanks for the recommendation!

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