Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi


Cover by John Harris, Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Published by Tor

Humanity is competing for space in our local section of the galaxy with hundreds of other alien races. A scientist has turned his back on humanity and allied with some of the aliens. The solution? Drop a backup of the scientist’s mind into a super soldier, Jared Dirac, and see what happens from there.

The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. It focuses on the eponymous special forces that were a smaller part of the previous book. Instead of transferring the minds of old people into genetically improved bodies, the soldiers of the ghost brigade are a mental blank slate inside a body that’s a melange of the best genetic material the military can find – fallen soldiers, aliens, etc. I read this series out of order. I started with Zoe’s Tale (my review) and followed that up with Old Man’s War. Both were read a few years ago, so I pretty much read this entry as a stand alone novel. It works that way, but it also had the neat affect that as Jared Dirac remembered things I found myself remembering bits of the storyline as well.

There’s a foundation of humor in Scalzi’s writing. This is a serious book about identity, choice, loyalty, love, war and genocide, but it’s a delight to read, even at it’s baby killing darkest moments because you’re never more than a page away from a laugh. Explicit laughs from bad joke telling. Laughs because of the audacity of the sci-fi eyeball kicks. Laughs at the innocence of super soldiers protecting children 3 times older than them.

I like how Scalzi writes aliens, particularly in the opening where the aliens are us. I like the tone, as I’ve mentioned. It’s as action packed and fun as any other Scalzi I’ve read, but the reason I’d suggest this to people at the moment is the questions it raises near the end when we find out why someone would betray humanity. Have Snowden and/or Assange done more harm or more good? Neither are as clearly sociopathic as the traitor Scalzi writes, but government secrets provide a jumping off point for discussion. And there’s the question that all good military science fiction from Starship Troopers on asks. What should the relationship be between the military and the civilian population be? Lots to chew on here, but plenty to enjoy even if I’m making it sound to heavy.

If you read and enjoy The Ghost Brigades, I’d recommend reading Blindsight by Peter Watts for more on intelligence versus consciousness. In the acknowledgements Scalzi calls out as “influences” Edenborn by Nick Sagan, The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds by Scott Westerfeld, and David Brin’s Uplift books. You could read the rest of the Old Man’s War books (The Last Colony and The Sagan Diary in addition to the ones already mentioned) or pretty much anything else by Scalzi. For more on consciousness transference, I’d point you at Greg Egan’s Axiomatic and Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels (my reviews: Broken Angels and Woken Furies. What novels and stories do you associate with the Old Man’s war books?

If you’d like to follow what I’m reading, friend me on Goodreads. If you like this review, comment and let me know. I could use the encouragement. If you want to discover something new (speculative fiction) to read, head over to my other website, TagShadow and explore. The copy of The Ghost Brigades I read has been on my shelf for a while and if the bookmark inside is any indication I originally bought it at Vromans in Pasadena. Some of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, but otherwise I’ve gotten no compensation for this review.

~ by mentatjack on January 5, 2014.

One Response to “Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi”

  1. I would have said it was the weakest of the Old Man’s series. The Special Forces were talked up heavily in the first book but once the spotlight focused on them, they went a bit cures cancer special to eats glue special. Okay slight exaggeration but characters and groups that are first presented as shadowy and mysterious often suffer when the veil is removed. I’d give it three out of five.

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