It’s official: John Scalzi is one of my new favorite writers. Why? Because he is almost singlehandedly drawing me back to the fold of science fiction readers. Heinlein too. I’ve been a die-hard fantasy reader my whole life, but stopped reading sci-fi after picking up some incredibly dense and dry novel whose name I have thankfully forgotten.

The Ghost Brigades is not dense and dry. First, and I truly believe most important, The Ghost Brigades, is a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing read. It is very successful as a sequel to Old Man’s War, despite it not having the exact same protagonist. Many of the characters from the first book are in this second one, including the butt-kicking Jane Sagan.

The Ghost Brigades expands the world of Old Man’s War so that the reader gets a more complete idea of the universe that the Colonial Union inhabits. This book tells the story of Jared Dirac (kudos to Scalzi for choosing the best first name on the planet. Yes it’s still the best despite that dingleberry who named a jewelry store after me.), who is essentially a clone of a man named Charles Boutin who appears to have betrayed humanity.

The CDF wants to understand why Boutin would get three alien races united to wipe out humanity, so they clone the fellow and then try to map the man’s brain scan onto the clone. In doing this, they also need to endow the clone/person with his own, unique personality.

Thus, Jared Dirac is born. At first, Jared is a normal Special Forces soldier; he is superhuman and emotionally very immature. But after a few fairly traumatic events in his life as a soldier, the memories of Boutin start coming to him and he finds himself morphing into a new person.

I stop here in order to avoid spoilers. But I will offer some of the tastier tidbits that sprang forth from the excellent and highly original mind of Mr. Scalzi:

*humans engineered to LIVE in space (not in a space ship or station)

*blood that combusts

*implications of instant, thought-level communication explored

*space drops (like in Starship Troopers)

*creative and nasty weapons

*moral crises

*appropriate and touching sentimentality

*very nifty and robustly developed critters

*a seriously cool ‘screw-you’ ending

I’m a fan of this book. Not even one character is throw-away. No situation or setting is simply ‘there.’ This is a finely crafted novel that not only entertains, makes you laugh, and surprises with twists; it also questions the idea of humanity, the need for war, self-identity, and implications of constantly evolving technology. Along with other stuff.

I was glad that I had The Last Colony on my shelf when I finished The Ghost Brigades. Not because I wanted to know what happened next, but because I wanted to spend more time in this wonderfully imaginative and robustly realized world, and with the people who populate it.

5 of 5 pens