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The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi This is the second volume of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I enjoyed the first book [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700] very much, I even rated it 5 stars on my Goodreads review (adjusted to 4 later). However, I read it in June 2011 and I have just read this second volume three years later. The reason is that since reading that first volume I have read so many books that I like much better and a 5 stars rating seems inaccurate. In all fairness I do not think there is much wrong with [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700] apart from some of the jokes falling flat for me. Scalzi has a good sense of humour and he even makes a good living out of his more humorous sci-fi but in [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700], and to a lesser extent this book The Ghost Brigades, some of the jokes just sort of short circuit for me. It seems like he tries too hard with the humour sometimes.

That reservation aside though, the Old Man's War series has a great concept and is generally well executed. Every successful sf author seems to have a popular series to call their own. So I guess this series is John Scalzi’s Foundation, Revelation Space, or The Night's Dawn Trilogy (I left out [b:Dune|234225|Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)|Frank Herbert|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1389569143s/234225.jpg|3634639] and [b:Hyperion|77566|Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)|Dan Simmons|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1405546838s/77566.jpg|1383900] as the first volume seems to be more popular as a standalone). In fact, today I just heard that Syfy is developing [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700] and The Ghost Brigades into a TV series (to be called “The Ghost Brigades” apparently).

Discussing John Scalzi’s books can be a little contentious as he has many admirers as well as detractors. His very high profile and incessant self-promotion can be very off-putting, and also his body of work tend to be highly commercial. For examples [b:Fuzzy Nation|9647532|Fuzzy Nation|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1316132345s/9647532.jpg|18280046] and [b:Redshirts|13055592|Redshirts|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348617890s/13055592.jpg|18130445] are two bestselling books but I have no intention of reading as one is a “reboot” of [b:Little Fuzzy|1440148|Little Fuzzy (Fuzzy Sapiens, #1)|H. Beam Piper|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348972417s/1440148.jpg|1876891] and personally I do not want books to be rebooted like movies and TV shows, and the other has a concept which does not appeal to me (Star Trek parody). In all fairness both books are probably very good but I just do not fancy reading them. On the positive side Scalzi’s style is very accessible and [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700] is a book you can generally recommend to anyone who want to start reading sci-fi; unless they are looking for literary or profound sci-fi, which are rather rarities in any case. He once described his works as “gateway drug” into sci-fi literature and that seems fair.

The Ghost Brigades takes place sometime after the events of [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700], I am not sure how much time has elapsed as this book features almost all new characters, except Jane Sagan. One thing I really like about this book is how Scalzi confounds my expectations by introducing the main protagonist Jared Dirac more than 60 pages into the book, and how his story arc develops in unexpected directions. In this volume Scalzi expands the world building of [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700] and delves into the life of the enigmatic Special Forces (nicknamed The Ghost Brigades). These are soldiers who were never naturally born but are bred in artificial bodies and implanted with consciousness and a built-in computer called “BrainPal” (not one of sci-fi’s best neologisms I don’t think). Unfortunately for our hero Jared Dirac he is implanted with a nefarious man’s consciousness pattern instead of a brand new consciousness like his colleagues, with the mission of tracking down this man and putting a stop to his plan to work with hostile aliens to destroy mankind.

Scalzi has considerable story telling skills and he seems to make an effort to ensure that the readers understand the scifi elements of his story. His prose style is mainly utilitarian but nice and clean. The characters are not particularly complex but they tend to be sympathetic and likable. The humour is hit and miss for me but they are not really an issue in this book, at least he is not trying to elicit laughter every few paragraphs (the awful Sherlock Holmes joke notwithstanding). On the other hand his depiction of human compassion is really quite effective (the feels!). I find The Ghost Brigades to be better written than [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1402867788s/51964.jpg|50700] but it is a little inferior in that the main concept is no longer new and much of the lengthy Special Forces training section is too similar to the regular soldiers training in the previous book. The sci-fi tech like the Skip Drive is very well explained in pseudo-science terms, and the diversity of sentient alien races is a feast of imagination.

TL;DR: I had a good time reading this book and will probably come back to the series before too long.