Monday, June 8, 2015

The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi

    2006; 343 pages.  Book 2 (out of soon-to-be 6) in the Old Man’s War series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Science Fiction; Military Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    Well, it was worth a try.  The brilliant scientist, Charles Boutin, betrayed mankind to aliens who are our sworn-enemies, and nobody can figure out why.  But a copy of his consciousness was left behind, and someone got the brilliant idea of implanting it into a ghost brigade embryo.  Of course, the embryo will also develop its own consciousness, but maybe Boutin’s will override it, talk, and reveal the reasons for his treachery.

    But alas, it appears the guinea ghost, Jared Dirac, has no subconscious competition going on; the implant of Boutin's mind had no effect.  Jared is released back into the Ghost Brigade to be just another soldier.

    And then the weird memories began to surface.

What’s To Like...
    The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to the opener in this series, Old Man’s War, and frankly is every bit as superb a story.  The structure is the same – Intro, Training, First Mission, Main Mission – and it works just as well this second time around.  We now follow a member of the Ghost Brigade, Jared Dirac, instead of one of the realborn, John Perry.  FWIW, Perry doesn’t even appear in this sequel, which I thought was very unusual.

    All the characters, and moreover, all the species, are “gray”.  Space opera lovers will enjoy the species John Scalzi serves up; in addition to humankind and the crablike Consu from the first book,  we now are introduced to the insectoid Enesha, the birdlike Rraey, and the bizarrely tinkered-with Obin.

    This is a “hard” science fiction work, and at times the storyline slows down as Scalzi discusses the physics behind the various techno-novelties, such as the Brain-Pal and the Skip Drive.  But the lags are brief, the technology fascinating, and there are lots of plot twists to keep you turning the pages.  The character development is masterful and deep; for example, it's fun to watch the relationship between Jared and Seaborg evolve from jealousy to grudging respect.

    If you’re looking for excitement, this will serve as a standalone novel.  But it moves the series’ overarching story along as well, and naturally, your understanding of what’s going on is better if you read Old Man’s War first.  The ending is nothing short of fantastic.  Prude Alert : There is some cussing, but you'd expect that in a military environment.

Kewlest New Word...
Bolus (n.) : a small rounded mass of a substance.

    The verdicts were reasonably consistent.  The War of the Worlds met with approval until the ending, which struck the 8th as a cheap trick.  Starship Troopers had some good action scenes but required too much unpacking of philosophical ideas; they liked the movie better, even though they recognized it was dumber. (...)  After watching Star Wars everyone wanted a lightsaber and was irritated that the technology for them didn’t really exist.  Everyone also agreed that the Ewoks should all die.  (pg. 98)

    “It’s ugly but it’s state-of-the-art,” Wilson said.  He walked over and slapped the refrigerator-looking object.  “This is the smallest Skip Drive ever created,” he said.  “Hot off the assembly line.  And not only is it small, but it’s an example of the first real advance we’ve had in Skip Drive technology in decades.”
    “Let me guess,” Jared said.  “It’s based on that Consu technology we stole from the Rraey.”
    “You make it sound like a bad thing,” Wilson said.  (pg. 204)

“Fear is existential.”  (pg. 286)
    The thought-provoking debates between the two protagonists – Jared Dirac and Charles Boutin – spotlight the crux of the story - who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?  For that matter, does such a black-&-white dichotomy even exist?

    John Scalzi also tackles some sub-themes of this question, including topics like assisted suicide, self-sacrifice, the killing of hostages, and, in the Jared's case, predestination versus free choice.  And while it would be easy to dismiss the aliens as unalterably brutal, the human forces can get down and dirty as well.

    It is always a treat when a sequel is just as good as the first book, and that’s the case for The Ghost Brigades.  John Scalzi’s writing is both exciting and witty.  Yes, I’ve been sucked into an unfinished series, but with four more books in the series and several “one off” Scalzi novels as well, I have a long way to go before I've read everything by him.

    9½ Stars.  Highly recommended, but read Old Man's War first.

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