The Ghost Brigades
Author – John Scalzi
Pages: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Release Date: February, 2006
When I first picked up John Scalzi’s first novel, Old Man’s War, I had every intention of hating it. Scalzi was bloody popular, hilarious, had droves of fans and, well… made me kind of jealous. His novel couldn’t possibly be worth the hype, right?
Almost as soon as I started the novel, though, I realized just how wrong I was. Old Man’s War was great â€“ fresh, funny, brutal, contemplative, full of character â€“ and I simply couldn’t bring myself to feel anything but. I wrote a glowing review and promptly went out in search of the sequel, The Ghost Brigades. Was Scalzi a one hit wonder? Or could he pull it off again?
Yes. Yes he could.
The Ghost Brigades, a standalone follow-up to Old Man’s War, continues in the tradition by offering a novel of fun, thoughtful and brutal military Science Fiction with a contemplative thread of philosophy. Where Old Man’s War tackled the idea of what makes us human, The Ghost Brigades is the story of choice. Many authors let the message in their novels overwhelm the storytelling, but Scalzi deftly handles the philosophy and weaves it delicately into the well drawn narrative. Terry Goodkind should take note.
The Ghost Brigade, after which the novel is titled, were one of the most intriguing aspects of Old Man’s War and it seems Scalzi knew it. A genetically engineered group of super-soldiers, the Ghost Brigade are essentially the guinea pigs of the Colonial Defense Forces, the first line of defense against all the terrors of the world and the ones who get thrown in to do the dirty work that no one else will; officially, they barely exist. The Ghost Brigade was only lightly touched upon in the final third of Old Man’s War, but were easily one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel. The Ghost Brigades, believe it or not, is their story, and Scalzi doesn’t disappoint on the promises made in Old Man’s War.
The story is mostly told through the eyes of Jane Sagan, a character from Old Man’s War and a member of the Ghost Brigade, and Jared Dirac, a newly cloned soldier brought to life for a singular reason: to house the recorded consciousness of a renegade genius bent on bringing war to the human race. Dirac’s story has much more focus than Old Man’s War â€“ which was rather lackadaisical and meandering â€“ and through extensive use of well-drawn dialogue and frenetic action scenes, the pace never lets up until the final pages.
The Ghost Brigades, unlike its predecessor, is told through a third-person point-of-view and I often found myself missing the introspective character pieces found in Old Man’s War, made possible by the close to the chest point-of-view. I wasn’t able to connect to Dirac or Sagan in the same way that I could to John Perry, the first novel’s protagonist. Still, Dirac’s situation and background (or lack thereof) is enough to create a compelling character whose internal and external dialogue had me thinking.
I mentioned earlier that Scalzi tackles the ideas of freewill and choice. I have to commend his ability to discuss big, philosophical ideas in a way that doesn’t bog down the narrative and character. Scalzi isn’t necessarily exploring new territory or redefining the genre, but the way he handles the ideas help set him apart from all the others.
Scalzi’s drawing together the makings of a great universe and I’ll certainly be hunting down copies of the next novel in the cycle, The Last Colony and taking a look at his upcoming young adult novel set in the same universe titled ZoÃ«’s Tale. The Ghost Brigades is a great follow up to Old Man’s War and with it I can’t help but admiting the John Scalzi’s the real deal, folk.