What it’s about: The Ghost Brigades are the special forces of the Colonial Union, created out of a mishmash of genetic material to create soldiers truly built for the sorry business of warfare. One hapless specimen becomes used as a pawn in a frenzied quest to stop a madman’s plan to topple the Colonial Union for his own megalomaniacal agenda.
- A loose sequel of sorts to Old Man’s War, the book continues to expand the universe in interesting ways. The Ghost Brigades is not as straight-shooting as the first, and it does have some moments of powerful pathos.
- The main character, Jared Dirac, is a great vehicle for bringing the reader through the paces of the story and universe – much like the first book. Dirac’s pathos as a character is really a distillation of one of the age-old themes in literature – the dynamic between father and son and whether or not the son can redress the sins of the father. Except in this circumstance it’s more like original and clone.
- The trajectory of the series at large becomes more apparent, as the actions of the Colonial Union are revealed in all their moral ambiguity even as they face enemies that seek to exterminate them with equal ruthlessness.
- The special forces themselves are wonderfully developed in their own strange way – Scalzi does a good job of humanizing while stressing how different they are from other humans – in terms of their faculty for telepathic communication, their admixture of knowledge and naivete as a result of their accelerated physical and mental development, and, in some cases, their decidedly non-standard phenotypes.
- The Obin are an interesting idea for an alien species – intelligent but lacking in consciousness, and driven by a desire to obtain it for themselves. In other words, a race of philosophical zombies. Someone like Dennett would tell you that this is essentially absurd – consciousness is a gestalt and anything advanced enough to give the appearance of consciousness is probably conscious. But then again, since consciousness transfer is a thing in this series, Scalzi probably takes the position that consciousness is an added layer on top of mere computational ability.
Verdict: I actually like this one better than Old Man’s War, because it’s decidedly more involved in questioning the conventions of the universe and whether or not there is an alternative to the endless warfare that humanity seems resigned to in Old Man’s War. Also, Jared Dirac is less of a Gary Sue power fantasy than John Perry.
I give this: 4.5 out of 5 imperial grubs