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Old School Wednesdays Joint Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

Old School Wednesdays Final

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In March 2013, we asked YOU for your favorite old school suggestions – and the response was so overwhelmingly awesome, we decided to compile a goodreads shelf, an ongoing database, AND a monthly readalong/book club.

This month, we continue our EPIC Old Man’s War Review Extravaganza with a joint review of book 2, The Ghost Brigades

US edition

US edition

Author: John Scalzi

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor
Publication date: First published 2006
Paperback: 347 pages

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…

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Old Man’s War series.

Previously on the Old Man’s War Readalong:

 
How did we get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print

Review

Ana’s Take:

In the follow-up to Old Man’s War, John Scalzi amps the game, expands his universe and turns his (our) eyes to the infamous Ghost Brigades, the super-super-soldiers of the Colonial Defense Forces, created from the DNA of dead people and uploaded with BrainPal, the best supercomputer available, directly to their brains. Their growth is accelerated, their training is speedy and in the end, the CDF is left with an elite troop of young, strong, almost inhuman, super soldiers created with a very specific mission: to protect humans.

They are ok with it.

Enter Jared Dirac: the main viewpoint character of this entry. In many ways, this is an interesting fold to the previous book. In that, the viewpoint character John was a 75-year-old man uploaded into the body of his younger cloned self. Here, Jared is a baby: born into the CDF, his first burst of consciousness as a baby human with a dedicated brain-computer, something we get to see and follow from the get go.

Here is the catch: unlike the previous book, there is a very specific plot at large. Because this book opens with a secret mission and the discovery of a stealthy plot to destroy humanity: three alien races have allied to halt humanity’s expansion into space. They are doing so with the aid of a human military scientist called Charles Boutin, who not only knows far too much but also bears a huge grudge against the CDF. For all intents and purposes, Charles Boutin is dead. Except for the fact that he isn’t: he absconded to the depths of space to work on his evil plan, leaving behind a dead clone and (for reasons that are not completely logical) his consciousness. The latter gets transferred into a new cloned body that eventually becomes Jared, our main character. The idea was that this consciousness would provide the answers as to why Charles has done what he has done but when that doesn’t happen, Jared gets transferred to the Ghost Brigades. Their current mission is to find and stop Charles Boutin at all costs.

So Jared might be a young human, just literally awakened, but he carries inside him the seed of an older consciousness that might take over at any given time. If – when – that happens, will Jared remain Jared? Or will he become someone else?

At its core, this is a story about being human and making choices, good and bad. It examines these within the microscope of one human life (Jared/Boutin) and the macro of the Colonial Defense Forces. We learn that there is more dodgy history behind the CDF than we had imagined – and I had imagined plenty. Expertly plotted, slowly progressing from Jared’s training, integration with his team mates to the climax where he meets his maker (in a way), The Ghost Brigades is I feel, a superior novel to Old Man’s War: I definitely felt more connected to its characters and more attuned to its themes. I specially loved how it ends, with all the main characters all expressing their free will in many different ways. This worked well because even though Jared is the primary viewpoint character, there are sections from other characters’ point of view too, including Jane (who had made her first appearance in Old Man’s War). Jane is a fantastic character and I loved her to bits, wishing as usual that 1) we had seen more of her and 2) that other female characters had a similar strong representation.

I loved to take a look at these especial forces, to the way they seems themselves as opposed to how regular humans look at them and how strongly connected they are to each other and to the idea of their mission in saving humanity. The complicated ethical aspects of creating such a troop is not glossed over and I expect things will only get more complicated as the series progresses.

In other words, The Ghost Brigades = level up. I really enjoyed it but as per usual: I could have done with more women.

I am ready for more, sir.

Thea’s Take:

OK, so for this reread, I had read Old Man’s War way back when, and loved it–but then never progressed with the series. Enter The Ghost Brigades and my first ever read of the book: and it was awesome.

Like Ana says, this is a book about choices, unfolding through the eyes of several characters but mostly through that of Jared Dirac–a brand new elite super soldier, but one carrying a ticking-time-bomb consciousness of an evil mastermind who is intent on destroying the Colonial Defense Forces. The juxtaposition of Doctor Charles Boutin, the senior scientist aiding and abetting the aliens who want to wipe out humanity and its colonial tendencies, and Jared, the brand-spankin-new-supersoldier just recently grown and woke from his test tube, is awesomesauce. The Ghost Brigades, unlike Old Man’s War, poses larger questions through its main protagonist about the nature of humanity, of consciousness, and of free will. I loved the tension here, very much.

Also on the up-and-up, The Ghost Brigades ups the ante in terms of worldbuilding, universe-crafting, and super-shady army powers. The alien races–the matriarchal termite-like Eneshan, the brutal Obin, the space-dwelling Gameran–are given a little more time here as we discover the extend of the CDF’s actions, and the business of war. Obviously, the CDF is up to no good–Jared’s entire storyline, and his “father”‘s, Boutin’s, is proof of that. Per Scalzi’s usual, this novel is full of fast-talking characters, slightly info-dumpy (in a good way), and a particular Scalzi brand of humor. I also appreciated the shoutouts to namesake scientists in this book in particular–Paul Dirac, the theoretical physicist whose work helped the foundation of quantum physics, and Carl Sagan, the iconic scientist who popularized space to the masses and made immense contributions to planetary and extraterrestrial intelligence research.

And speaking of Sagan, how awesome is Jane in this book? I agree with Ana that I wish there were more women–but I also know that with the conclusion of this novel, and Zoe’s fate, and knowing that there’s a book in the series called Zoe’s Tale, we will get more.

I cannot wait.

Rating:

Ana: 8 – Excellent

Thea: 8 – Excellent

The EPIC Old Man’s War Series by John Scalzi Reading

The rest of the series schedule is below! Join us!

The Last Colony – March 22

Zoe’s Tale – April 26

The Human Division – May 24

The End of All Things – June 21

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1 Comment

  • Fence
    March 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I read this one, but until I read your review I couldn’t have told you what it was about. I have a very poor memory sometimes 🙁
    I do know that I meant to read on the in series so maybe by March 22nd I’ll have made some progress in that regard

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