Sunday, September 24, 2006


John Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades is more follow-up than sequel to his Hugo-nominated Old Man’s War. It’s set in the same universe. A secondary character from OMW plays a much larger role in this book. But otherwise, it’s a standalone novel — and a very entertaining one, if not quite as good as its predecessor.

To summarize quickly, the war between humankind’s Colonial Defense Forces and every other known race in the universe continues. But now, three disparate races have united to wipe out humanity, and they’re aided by a traitorous human scientist named Charles Boutin, who knows much too much about CDF’s sometimes problematic methods and motives. To help them find Boutin, CDF plants the scientist’s memories into one of their elite Special Forces soldiers created from the DNA of the dead, Jared Dirac. At first, Boutin’s memories don’t seem to take, but when they do eventually surface, then, as they say, the hi-jinks begin.

Like its predecessor novel, The Ghost Brigades focuses on identity: what makes a person, well, a person. Is it memory? Is it personality? Or is it something else entirely? Also like OMW, this book is an effective anti-war novel. Scalzi never glamorizes combat; in fact, most of Ghost’s images are really horrifying. And, as I hinted before, the author shows us that in wartime, the intentions of even the so-called Good Guys are, more often than not, dubious.

Maybe because I was already familiar with Scalzi’s world, The Ghost Brigades didn’t pack the wallop I got when I read the first book. But this is a great, quick read anyway, and I recommend it without reservation. A third (and final?) novel in this series comes out next May, titled The Last Colony. I’ll be there.


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