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Book Review – The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

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.

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