The Ghost Brigades
John Scalzi
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Buy *The Ghost Brigades* by John Scalzi online

The Ghost Brigades
John Scalzi
Tor Books
384 pages
May 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is the follow-up novel to Old Manís War. It's not a direct sequel, though subsequent events will show that it actually is, in a sense. Instead, it features the love of John Perry's life, Jane Sagan, Special Forces ("Ghost Brigades") officer. This book is a lot grittier than the Old Manís War, and the point of view choices are much different. It's just as effective, though, with fewer of the faults of the previous book.

In the future, humans have gone to the stars, but they aren't allowed to go back. Humans have colonized planets but run up against a number of alien races that don't want them there, and war inevitably develops. Jane Sagan, a lieutenant in the Colonial Defense Forces, captures an alien scientist with information about an unlikely triple alliance of races. They also discover that the instigator of this plot to start a war with the CDF is a human traitor, a genius named Charles Boutin. Before he left, he downloaded his consciousness into a computer, so the CDF decide to clone his body and try to install his consciousness into it to see if they can figure out Boutin's plan and motivations. It doesn't seem to work, so they give the resulting "person," Jared Dirac, to the Ghost Brigades for their training and use. But as time goes on, the other consciousness begins to emerge, and Jane will ultimately have to determine if Jared is with them or if he must be killed.

The Ghost Brigades is an awesome continuation of Scalzi's series, taken in a whole new direction so that it doesn't go stale. He doesn't continue the adventures of John Perry; he is just a soldier in never-ending war, and Scalzi would have to come up with something really creative to make that interesting. Instead, he shows us the Ghost Brigades, something whose potential was only hinted at in the previous book.

Also, this book has much more of a point than Old Manís War. While Sagan plays a vital role in the book, it's not really about her, and thus not just "tales of the Special Forces." Everything is geared to Boutin and his ultimate plan, and the story therefore centers on Jared. We see his integration into the Ghost Brigades and his training - but it's not the seemingly aimless training that Perry went through, a means to an end to illustrate the galaxy Scalzi has created while introducing us to the concepts. It shapes Jared, highlighting just how integrated all Ghost units are (by using their brain-implanted computers, called Brainpals).

While the story is much more focused, the points of view aren't. We get Sagan's and Jared's, but we also see some of the officersí (both Ghosts and regular CDF), illustrating what life is like in the officer corps. It also gives us a big-picture view of what is really going on and the stakes that are at risk if Boutin's plan comes to fruition. This provides The Ghost Brigades a broad scope even as the story itself narrows in on one problem. We see some of the truth behind the CDF, both Boutin's warped view of it (which would sound somewhat convincing if he wasn't such a maniac) and the reality of it.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Scalzi's brilliant characterization. These people jump off the page, from the more minor characters to Sagan and Jared. The Ghosts aren't supposed to have a sense of humor, but General Szilard has obviously been around long enough to develop one. His interactions with the CDF liaison, Colonel Robbins, are wonderful, especially in the Officers' Mess, where underlings can attend but can't eat. The scene with Szilard and the cookie is worth the price of admission alone.

However, it is Sagan and Jared who make this book sing. Sagan is reluctant to be Jared's guardian, but she takes on the task and develops a respect for him even as she is not sure she can trust him. She is an intelligent leader, compassionate, and thorough. My first thoughts on Jared when I began this review were to criticize the emotional distance readers seem to have from him at times. He develops a love for one of his squadmates, but it never seems "real." On further examination, though, that just illustrates Jared's emotional isolation even more. He is a man (boy, really, as he is only a year or so old at the end of the book) who was grown for a purpose. He has even less control over his life than do most of the Ghosts, who while bred only for combat at least know what the meaning of their life is. Jared doesn't even have that certainty. He'll always have that disadvantage, and Scalzi brings that out perfectly.

Finally, the action is relentless, but again it's not your typical military SF. Scalzi doesn't dwell on the technology or the broad military tactics. There are some pretty horrific deaths in the book, but nothing too disgusting (except in concept, of course, such as falling from low orbit). He just gives the reader enough to understand what's going on and then gets to the action itself. This time, he injects a little philosophy as well. He did that with Old Manís War, too, but it doesn't feel as forced this time around.

The Ghost Brigades seems to wrap up the personal storyline of the series' main protagonists, but it sets up some huge events for the galaxy at large in the next book. There are certainly no major flaws to hinder the enjoyment of this wonderful book. Unless you have a huge aversion to any kind of military SF, pick this one up.

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