The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades is the second book from John Scalzi, set in the same world as Old Man’s War.  There are couple of cross-over characters but the main protagonist from Old Man’s War is not present (although he is mentioned).  The story revolves around a few characters (including Jane Sagan) which sets it immediately apart from it’s predecessor and indeed The Ghost Brigades is a better book.

Three intelligent races appear to be ganging up against the humans backed with knowledge from a human traitor, and it’s up to the CDF’s Special Forces unit to find out what’s going on and shut it down before it turns into a disaster.  But to achieve it, they have to recreate the traitor to learn exactly what their enemy is up to.

The Ghost Brigades reads more smoothly than Old Man’s War and the increased number of viewpoints throughout the story give it more depth.  On one level this is a less personal story, more a story of humanity’s attempt to survive in the great Universe; and yet it retains a very personal core in the form of Jared Dirac and his struggle to work out who he really is or might become.  We learn more about the CDF’s technology, get a hint at some greater machine turning in the background behind all the action and experience some thrilling and tense combat action.  Character interaction is excellent and while the nature of the CDF special forces might seem to prevent much character growth, Scalzi manages to do it anyway in a satisfying way.

The science / sci-fi element is interesting although I’m not a fan enough of sci-fi to tell you if it’s credible or crazy.  Sclazi also manages to provide some truly interesting aliens races to think about who are more than just humanoids with head prosthetics.

I’m a sucker for all the emotional triggers in this book (I’ll say no more in case I give too much away) so was very moved and touched by the latter few chapters.  That results in me almost forgiving the initially slow and slightly clumsy start, but not enough to give it 5 stars.

The Ghost Brigades is a worthy successor to Old Man’s War, and in many ways surpasses it.  Strongly recommended.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: John Scalzi
  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Old Man’s War

 It’s a while since I read anything and it’s even longer since I read any sci-fi.  I ended up reading Old Man’s War thanks to Twitter and WordPress.  If you browse the web for authors and blogs and sci-fi / fantasy you’ll eventually come across John Scalzi (his blog is here).  I enjoyed his blog posts, and followed him on Twitter.  Eventually I decided to order his first book (along with books from several other authors I’ve never read but have heard of thanks to Twitter / Blogs), and that first book is Old Man’s War.  It was published in 2005 and got a Hugo nomination for Best Novel in 2006 (it came 3rd).

Old Man’s War tells the story of Colonial Defence Force soldier John Perry.  New applicants to the CDF join when they are 75, after signing a letter of intent at 65 years of age.  Recruits join for a couple of reasons, not least among them is the belief or rumour that the CDF somehow makes them young again – why else would they want soliders aged 75 unless they can give them a fresh lease of life.

The book is interesting and engaging straight off the bat, the base premise is novel and provides a stepping stone for the overall story.  This isn’t a complex story or an overly reflective book, but it is a very personal story (the first-person perspective enhances the impact).  John’s wife has died, and he’s got few ties left on earth.  Joining the army and getting a new lease of life somehow seems like the best thing to do.  The arc follows his journey both physical and emotional as he discovers what the rest of the universe is actually like and how the human colonies out there are coping.  The CDF is constantly fighting battles against a broad range of enemies of all times.

We spend time initially with John and some people he meets at the early stages of his recruitment.  They engage in various battles, learn the truth of the CDF recruitment plan and eventually discover that a throw away comment about the Ghost Brigade was more than just a joke.

The writing is no frills and to the point, it’s not possible to tell if this is John Scalzi’s normal style or if it’s intended to reflect John Perry’s view of the world, either way it suits my reading needs and allows you to engage with the characters easily.  There is humour and sadness and while the emotional pieces aren’t deeply moving they’re certainly engaging.  The story of folk joining a sci-fi based military organisation and being sent off-world to fight enemies with more than 2 legs isn’t a new one, but Scalzi’s humour and presentation of Perry’s thoughts lift this story above the plot and make it well worth reading.  I ordered the sequel (The Ghost Brigades) as soon as I’d put Old Man’s War down.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: John Scalzi
  • Genre: Sci-Fi
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)