fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsscience fiction book reviews The Ghost Brigades by John ScalziThe Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades is the second novel in John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR saga. It focuses on the Ghost Brigades — the Special Forces soldiers that the Colonial Union (CU) creates by genetic engineering and who have special powers because of the BrainPal computers in their heads. They’re born in adult bodies and are rapidly assimilated into the Special Forces, though they are a little immature because of their mental age and they lack some of the personality and social skills that come from interaction with “real-born” people in a normal environment. The Ghost Brigades give the regular CU soldiers the heebee-jeebees.

In this story the Colonial Union has discovered the existence of a traitorous scientist, Charles Boutin, who has faked his death by cloning himself and has aligned himself with three alien species who plan to wipe out the humans. Part of his motivation is that he blames the CU for the death of his daughter Zoe who was on a planet the CU blew up. Boutin is helping the aliens by giving them information about Special Forces’ BrainPals. This will allow them to have such technology themselves and perhaps find a way to hack into the BrainPals of the Special Forces soldiers.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThis is not good; Boutin must be stopped. When Special Forces discover a source for Boutin’s DNA and his consciousness which he uploaded for safe keeping, they decide to clone him so they can have a soldier who may have Boutin’s memory and who may think like Boutin. (They realize that this could go badly awry.) And so they create Jared Dirac and it’s up to Jared to stop his “father.” Commander Jane Sagan (who we remember from Old Man’s War), is skeptical and worried that instead of catching a traitor, they may be creating another one.

The Ghost Brigades is an exciting story with lots of action, cool ideas, and some of John Scalzi’s humor (but not as much as in Old Man’s War). Scalzi takes the opportunity to make us think about nature vs. nurture, free will, the role of the environment on personality formation, the ethics of cloning, the role of consciousness in the arts, and the relationship between brain, mind and soul.

Scalzi also decides to throw some mud in the water. At this point in the OLD MAN’S WAR story, it’s becoming clear that war is a murky business. Are we supposed to be rooting for the Colonial Union? They’ve got some seriously questionable ethics and our villain is somewhat sympathetic. Has Earth been mistreating her soldiers and/or holding back human technological development? I look forward to learning more in the next book, The Last Colony and its companion, Zoe’s Tale.

I’m reading the audio version of OLD MAN’S WAR which is mostly narrated by William Dufris who, as usual, gives a stellar performance. I recommend this series on audio.

Release date: February 21, 2006. The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF’s toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms. The universe is a dangerous place for humanity — and it’s about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did. Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers — a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin’s DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin’s electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades. At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his “father,” he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

Old Man’s War — (2005-2015) Nominated for a Hugo Award. Publisher: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army. The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce — and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding. Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine — and what he will become is far stranger.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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