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John Scalzi – The Sagan Diary

September 16, 2011

Short Story. The Sagan Diary by John Scalzi (2007)
Old Man’s War, Book 2.5

Read my review of book:
1. Old Man’s War
2. The Ghost Brigades

Length: 36 pages
Genre: Science Fiction

Started / Finished: 01 September 2011

Where did it come from? The Subterranean Press website.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the first two books of the series, and I like doing things in order.

I wonder if there’s
a 401k to deal
with loss of BrainPal?

Summary: The members of the Colonial Defense Fleet Special Forces – or the Ghost Brigades, as they’re colloquially known – are born into the bodies of adult genetically engineered super-soldiers, and never experience a moment of consciousness without their BrainPal software fully functional. Now Jane Sagan, a Special Forces CO, has reached the end of her term of service to the CDF, and is choosing retirement over reenlistment, even though it means her consciousness will be transferred back to a regular human body. This “novelette” is her diary in the weeks before her transition, ruminating on what life is like as a Special Forces soldier, and what she risks losing – and gaining – in her upcoming transition.

Review: I enjoyed this story quite a lot, although I think the reasons that I enjoyed it might be the reasons that a lot of people don’t like it. Specifically: it is very, very different from the full-length novels in the Old Man’s War series. It’s not funny, it’s not action-packed, and it’s more philosophical musing than plot. For people looking for a short story in the vein of Scalzi’s longer books, it’s going to be a disappointment. (Although I’d point those people towards “After the Coup“, which is set in the OMW universe and is very much in keeping with the tone of the first two books.)

But for exactly those reasons, I thought it was great. Scalzi takes this opportunity to show off his range, and Jane Sagan’s voice suits her perfectly, yet is nothing at all like the voice of John Perry or Jared Dirac. It also takes a really hard look at a lot of the issues that separate regular humans from CDF, and CDF from Special Forces – issues that are hinted at but never really examined in the books in any depth… or at least not from the point of view of someone who has volunteered to give it all up, and is willing to think about her decision critically. The tone is meandering, yes, but beautifully and poignantly so, and I thought this made a perfect little intermezzo between books. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Much like The Ghost Brigades, Scalzi doesn’t waste a lot of time summarizing what’s come before (i.e. who the “you” that Sagan keeps addressing in her diary is), so I don’t think this is something that should be read by newcomers to the series. For those that have read the first two books, though, The Sagan Diary is a change of pace that provides a unique perspective on the events of the main series… although be advised that it is indeed a major change of pace.


The name “Jane Sagan.” The name itself mere words: The first name bland and common, the second name for a scientist who hoped for a better universe than the one we live in. I wonder if he were alive what he would think of the woman who used it now, and the cosmos in which she finds herself; whether he could embrace one or both, see beauty in either, or only entropy and slight regard; a rebuke on his lips for this demon-haunted world. –p. 7

I am connected to those I kill and would look past them, down the line of their lives to the originating point, to the other T-joint where their lives intersect with another: to the creature who bore them – to the woman, the female, the she; the verb and action and performance to complement my own, she who is not birth but whose acts allowed it, as I am not death but whose acts permit it. –pg. 9

This is what fear does: presents you with what you can bear, so that when he shows you what is unbearable, you will open wider to let him feed on your heart. –p. 29

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

Links: Read it | Listen to it (for free! Both for free!)

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, Necromancy Never Pays, Neth Space, Stainless Steel Droppings
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Col. Blauser: As per your instruction in your memorandum of 341.10.07, we have begun processing the BrainPal memory stacks of Colonial Special Forces members who have left that service, whether by death or (rather more rarely) by discharge from service.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2011 10:41 am

    I didn’t even know this existed! Thanks for the heads-up!

    • September 19, 2011 9:10 am

      Kailana – I was originally all bummed because I didn’t have a paper copy so I couldn’t read it in order, and then I realized it was a short story rather than a novel proper, and that it was available for free online! I love when that happens. :)

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