NESFA Members' Reviews

The Ghost Brigades

by John Scalzi

Tor, 2006, ISBN 0-765-31502-5

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is the sequel to Scalzi's earlier Old Man's War, and it's an even better book. Old Man's War was part homage to Heinlein and Haldeman, part good old-fashioned sf adventure, very well-done by someone who loves the genre, but limited in its ambitions. The Ghost Brigades tackles some of the issues the previous book left behind in its romp through a dangerous galaxy.

Jane Sagan, the sort-of clone of John Perry's dead wife whom we met in OMW, captures an enemy scientist who, as it turns out, is working on consciousness transferral and related matters using data smuggled out by a human scientist who staged his own apparent suicide and defected. This sets off an investigation that leads to the discovery that the scientist, Charles Boutin, left behind a recording of his own consciousness in his lab—and that consciousness hasn't dissolved. Up until now, one of the major reasons why CDF recruits' consciousness is transferred directly from their old body to their new one is that there's no way to store consciousness. Boutin has solved this problem and not shared the knowledge with the CDF. If his recorded consciousness can be successfully re-embodied, it might be possible to learn both what other interesting advances he may have made and not shared, and why he defected. And so a new body is cloned for him, the consciousness transferred in—and the transfer apparently fails. The new person is not Charles Boutin, Mark II, and so he becomes Special Forces soldier Jared Dirac, and after the Special Forces' version of basic training is assigned to Jane Sagan's platoon, so that she can keep an eye on him in case Charles Boutin starts to emerge later.

The hunt for the real Boutin and his motives leads to three races in an unexpected alliance against the Colonial Union—two of them are more commonly at war with each other. Jared, meanwhile, is learning to be a Special Forces soldier, making friends, having rivalries, and getting his first taste of combat.

It's in the aftermath of one especially nasty mission that Jared gets a bag of black jellybeans in the ship's commissary and experiences the first very uncomfortable beginnings of Charles Boutin's personality and memories emerging. The Ghost Brigades starts to grapple with some of the issues raised but not dealt with in OMW—the nature of personal identity, personality transferrance from one body to another, the morality of the Special Forces (whereas a young CDF regular forces soldier is in his late seventies, an old Special Forces soldier might conceivably be a teenager; most are six or younger), the rumors floating about among the CDF regulars that some of the Special Forces might really different. It's an interesting and thoughtful book that still delivers fast-paced adventure.


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