Monday, March 26, 2007

Booknote: The Ghost Brigades

Scalzi, John. The Ghost Brigades. New York: TOR Books, 2006. ISBN: 0-765-31502-5

Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Science fiction, military science fiction

This is the sequel to the novel Old Man's War (see my note on that book here). It takes a deeper look at the Colonial Defense Forces' Special Forces units known as the Ghost Brigades, which were introduced in the first book. This time, the Colonial Union and the CDF face the threat of various races forming an alliance against them. To complicate matters, a prominent scientist, a specialist in consciousness transfers, betrays the CU and joins the enemy. The CDF manages to clone the scientist in hopes of tapping into his memories. However, when the memories fail to surface right away, the clone is given over to the Ghost Brigades to be another special forces soldier. Over time, Jared Dirac, that soldier, begins to intuit why the scientist betrayed his own people.

The premise of the book is great, and one would think this would be another good military scifi reading. However, unlike the previous book, this one has a couple of problems. Its pacing is extremely slow. It is plagued by extensive explanations that, while interesting at some points, significantly slow down the story. I wanted to get into this book given that I enjoyed the previous one, but it became a matter of reading a few pages, leaving it a while, then coming back to it. The only reason I kept at it is because I wanted to find out the characters' fate. Therein lies the other problem. Scalzi's ending for the novel went for what I can only describe as some maudlin moment interspersed with some conspiracy element. The conspiracy part was alright, but the maudlin stuff I could have done without. The "happy" ending somehow seemed contrived. It is a pity really because the book gives a great look at the Special Forces characters mentioned in the first book. However, even though the book seemed to be about one character, it really ends up being about another. I didn't quite appreciate the apparent switch. If you ask me, I would have handled the ending differently. I probably would have treated Jane Sagan in a way similar to the way Festina Ramos was treated at the end of the novel Expendable. But that is just me, and no one is asking. If you have not read James Alan Gardner's Expendable, it may be a good novel to consider.

Overall, if you enjoyed the first book, you might pick up the second one out of curiosity. However, I am not recommending it unless you are really curious and willing to plod through a pretty slow plot. There is action, but you have to dig to get to it. Otherwise, you may be better off skipping this sequel. A pity in my view since the first one was really good.

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