I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel to Old Man’s War. Jane Sagan is back in a supporting role, but this novel stars Jared Dirac, a cloned and genetically modified elite soldier in the Colonial Defense Forces’ Ghost Brigades. He is the unfortunate host for the memories of Charles Boutin, a brilliant scientist turned traitor who is helping an alien species, the Obin, in their war against the CDF.
Dirac’s inner conflict for self-identification is a central theme. Who is he? What is he? Is he truly human or just a manufactured killing machine? Is he a unique individual, or is he just a copy of Boutin? Does he have true choices? Can he decide who and what he is? Dirac explores these and other questions and, at the end, finds his answers.
This is also a story of mankind’s quest for the stars, their need to expand and diverge. But although space may be limitless, prime planets suitable for life are not, and humanity has found itself in conflict for them with a large number of alien species. This is why the CDF exists — to defend human colonies and sometimes to remove the colonies of others.
This is not just your typical ‘action packed’ military science fiction story, though. Nor is it ‘hard’ science fiction that relies significantly on whiz-bang gadgetry and prose peppered with heaps of techno-babble. There is a high-tech medical and genetic component, of course, but this novel is primarily ‘soft’ science fiction. Its focus is on the ‘soft’ sciences, such as psychology, sociology, culture, and politics. This is where the true conflict is, both within humanity and between species. There is real depth to Scalzi’s characters, and their interaction highlights some of the best and worst of humanity.
I recommend this book, but read Old Man’s War first. Then continue with The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale. That’s it in this saga for now, but I hope Scalzi will write another. If he does, I’ll read it.
‘Action packed’ military science fiction seldom appeals to me, but this one hooked me from the beginning because the characters are believable individuals rather than shallow, cookie-cutter stereotypes, and the bad guys are simply so detestable you want to see them fail. The latter are a bunch of violent religious zealots from the Legion of the Lightbringer based on New Jerusalem, a colony planet founded as both a dumping ground and sanctuary for theists from the Union of Free Worlds. The story never explicitly tells us why, but religion is banned on Union planets. It can be inferred that outlawing religion was done because of past wars and other acts of atrocity fostered in the name of religion, but we do not know for sure. Regardless, the Legion and the Union are the two major forces in conflict in this story. There is also a third group known as the Alliance. Not much is said about them, although they are bankrolling the Legion and may be a group of ‘free enterprise’ capitalists who wish to avoid taxation and regulation imposed by the Union. There are cultural and political parallels to contemporary Earth here, which, I’m sure, are not accidental.
There is a fourth group, this one of incorporeal aliens, and a mad scientist. The concerns of both of these transcend the conflict between the Union and the Legion and make it almost irrelevant. They, too, are in conflict and provide an interesting subplot.
The setting for the story is a large, rotating, hollowed out asteroid known as Angelhaven, which is owned and operated by AngelCorp. Its major export is military technology, which it sells to the Union of Free Worlds. This asteroid provides a home for about a quarter million people and the story opens with the Legion invading their poorly defended colony. The future tech required for this outpost of humanity to exist was explained in just enough detail to make it believable without losing most readers.
I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, so that’s all I’ll say about the plot other than to add that it is tight, well conceived and the ending provides a satisfying conclusion.
Since this is one of a growing number of excellent self-published works, I’ll add a bit about the technical aspects of the novel. The story is told from multiple points of view, but as each character is unique and easily recognizable, the reader is never confused. Grammar, punctuation, and the number of typos are on par with traditionally published books. Actually, the prose is better than many traditionally published books I have seen, and I only saw, at most, half a dozen typos in the entire thing.
The one thing that did not appeal to me is simply a matter of taste. I don’t find death and destruction entertaining, and this book is loaded with both. It is almost nonstop ‘action,’ which is, I believe, the proper literary review euphemism for bloody violence and heaps of dead bodies. These are not my thing, but the book has several redeeming qualities that kept me reading. For action packed military science fiction, this is among the best I have seen.