Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ghost Brigades

I quickly ordered John Scalzi's second book, The Ghost Brigades (2006), from PBS after reading Old Man's War (OMW) and really enjoying it.  While not a direct sequel to OMW, The Ghost Brigades is set in the same universe and shares some characters.  Unfortunately, Scalzi's sophomore effort didn't hook me the same way his first book did.

Set in the same universe as OMW, we follow the story of a member of the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) special forces (known colloquially as the Ghost Brigades).  Special forces soldiers differ from conventional forces in that they are not conscripted from Earth's senior citizens.  Instead, they are "born" from the genetic material of those who intended to join the CDF but, due to circumstances, were unable to fulfill their term (usually do to death prior to their 75th birthday).  Special forces soldiers, therefore, enter life in a super-enhanced adult body with no emotional experience or instinctual base to rely upon.  Instead, these parts of their personality must be built during a short, intense period of training with other just born soldiers.

At the opening of the novel, the CDF is facing a traitor in its midst--the scientist Charles Boutin has united three alien races against his own species.  While humans are able to hold their own against any one of the species individually, the combined might of three together makes extinction of humans a very real possibility.  Enter our main character, Jared Dirac, who has been instilled with the consciousness of Boutin in an effort by the CDF to understand what Boutin may be plotting and his motives for his betrayal.

This plan doesn't work as well as the CDF brass had hoped when Boutin's memories fail to be immediately accessible to Dirac.  He is sent back to a normal special forces unit under Jane Sagan's watchful eye (why waste a good soldier?).  When some aspects of Boutin's memories and personality begin to emerge during a combat mission, the loyalty of Dirac is put to question.

As a biologist by trade, I feel obligated to complain about some of the pseudo-genetics used to explain the principles behind the transfer of Boutin's consciousness from a computer to a human mind.  It would have been more convincing to just leave it up to the reader to imagine how this might come about.

Don't get me wrong--The Ghost Brigades is an entertaining book with a solid plot (one of my complaints of the first book) that is well executed.  Its more conventional nature seemed to lack a certain freshness that made OMW stand above a lot of other science fiction novels.  On the other hand, if Scalzi had chosen simply to retread the adventures of John Perry in a sequel, I would no doubt be vigorously complaining.  At any rate, I look forward to seeing what Scalzi does when he applies his considerable talent to a different theme/world!

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