«

»

Aug 13

Book Review: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

It’s a sequel to Old Man’s War and Wikipedia describes it thusly:

The colonial defense forces (CDF) finds out that one of its consciousness transfer scientist, Charles Boutin, has turned traitor and sparked an unprecedented alliance between three other species to wipe out humanity… The CDF creates a CDF soldier body with Boutin’s DNA to try to implant the copy of Boutin’s consciousness into the new brain, to learn where Boutin has escaped to and what his intentions really are. The attempt fails, so the soldier becomes a private in the CDF Special Forces, also known as “Ghost Brigades”, given the name Jared Dirac and assigned to a platoon commanded by Jane Sagan. In the off-chance that Boutin’s consciousness does emerge, Sagan and her superiors are determined to keep an eye on Jared.

(I’ve cut out any major-oh-my-God-why-the-fuck-did-you-cut-and-paste-that-I-was-going-to-read-the-book-now-I’m-not spoilers)

You may know John Scalzi from his popular blog Whatever, his recent Presidency of the SFWA or the bazillion times he’s referenced on libertarian / right wing blogs (often under the highly original moniker McRapey). John Scalzi also happens to be an author and to be fair he does a pretty decent job promoting that side of his life as well. (His Nebula and Hugo nominated 2012 novel Redshirts only recently won a Locus Award).

In terms of his writing he came to fame with Old Man’s War which won a Hugo in 2006 and which is an entertaining read. The same can be said for the sequel Ghost Brigades. It’s popcorn munching fun with some nicely rendered action scenes and wisecracking dialogue (interspersed with deep and meaningful dialogue about freedom and choice and oppression). It’s the sort of book you’ll swallow down in a couple of session (or if you have children, four or five days) and not feel dirty afterwards.

It does have its problems though. Exposition is the curse of the world builder and the first 60 pages are crammed with unwieldy explanations of the Colonial Defence Forces and it’s ongoing war with the rest of the Universe. I know why these long, pace-killing paragraphs are in the novel (I’m looking at you pages 57 to 61) but there’s got to be a better way of telling the audience about your high concept space opera without stopping the novel dead.

There’s a few more these expository chunks later in the novel, most of them dealing with military tactics and the explanation of new technology. And, of course, the villain gets a number of pages to conveniently lay out his dastardly plan. But none of these bits are as bad as what we get at the start of the novel.

The other bit of the novel that sticks between the teeth is the fact that Jared’s character arc is helped along by the death of someone he’s close too. I bet you can’t guess the gender of that person? Go on… yes… that’s right… a woman must die for a man to shed some tears and as a result make the hard choices. Given that the book was written in 2006 I do wonder whether a more enlightened Scalzi, circa 2013, would have made the same narrative choices.

Still unwieldy exposition and suspect character arcs aside, I did enjoy reading Ghost Brigades. While Scalzi’s cast of characters are broad stereotypes (the fish out of water, the hard arsed General, the bully who’s not that bad once you get to know him) I did begin to relate to them, so much so that my eyes began to mist over toward the end of the novel. In fact it becomes clear in the fading moments of the book why Scalzi is so popular. He knows how to bring even a sketchy 2D character alive.

So flawed but entertaining novel. I’m sure audiences will love a competently made Old Man’s War movie, and the sequels, if and when they hit the silver screen (yes, I know it’s been optioned).

 

3 comments

  1. seantheblogonaut

    I was wondering if you had read Leviathan Wakes by SA Corey. It struck me as a balanced novel in terms of world building.

    1. Mondyboy

      I haven’t. But I own the first book and I am tempted to give it a go.

      1. seantheblogonaut

        Yeah both Alex and I reviewed it if I am not mistaken. I liked it and Alex had some niggling issues.

Leave a Reply