The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is the second book in the Old Man’s War universe. A strong sci-fi book that falls short of its predecessor but manages to bring up interesting ideas about identity and choice. The audio narrator that I listened to was William Dufries and he is once again outstanding.
4/5 17/25 total score
Type of Story: Science Fiction that is light on hard science and more space opera.
– Fun narrative that opened up many possibilities early on.
– A larger expansion of the Old Man’s War universe with more information about the aliens and the Colonial Defense Force.
– Some strong elements of philosophical ideas like choice and identity.
– Change in main character from the first Old Man’s War book that isn’t as engaging.
– The point of view changes more in this book than the previous.
Similar Books/Media: This is going out on a limb a little bit but I saw some similarities between this and Battlestar Galactica, the newest version.
Plot – 4(Strong)
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is set in the same world as Old Man’s War but follows a completely different main character, Jared Dirac. Jared Dirac is a new Ghost Brigade soldier that was a failed experiment after they attempted to put the consciousness of a traitor, named Boutin, into Dirac’s body. The consciousness did not take and Dirac ended up being a brand new human with his own consciousness. Dirac becomes a Ghost Brigade and goes on multiple missions with his squadron while being watched carefully in case the consciousness of the traitor comes out. At this point there are just so many opportunities to go anywhere with this narrative and I love it.
Jane Sagan, a character from the previous Old Man’s War novel is in charge of Dirac and when he starts to show signs of remembering things of Boutin’s life, she believes Dirac is a liability. When Boutin is found still helping the CDF’s enemies, Dirac might be the only person that can save the entire universe from all out war.
The Ghost Brigades is a solid narrative that gets more involved in the political and military aspects of the universe because we are mostly around the Special Forces Unit of the CDF. There is a lot less mystery in this book than Old Man’s War because we are dealing with people that know more about what is going on in the universe, however, there are still plenty of secrets to go around. Scalzi expands his Old Man’s War universe by adding more alien species and a more complex weaving between the races and the wars that are happening.
The best part of the plot is the unknowing aspect of what will happen when Dirac’s subconscious of the traitor becomes a part of who he is. Will Dirac become a traitor himself or is he a completely different individual than the man he was copied from? Also, what makes up someone’s conscious, is it just their memories, or is there something more to it?
Characters – 3(Fine)
Jared Dirac is no John Perry but he is still a good enough main character. It took me awhile to like him because at the beginning of the novel he is like a new child. Over time he grew on me and his struggle with who he is was pretty fascinating.
Jane Sagan is back from Old Man’s War but she is a more no nonsense type of character than she was in the previous novel. She has a lot of responsibility now and she takes that responsibility seriously. All of Jared’s squad mates have their own little personalities that entertain.
Boutin is an interesting antagonist because of his relation to Jared. His actions and motivations are clear to the reader and the reader gets to make an important decision if the way he views the world is correct or not.
Setting/World Building – 4(Strong)
The Old Man’s War setting continues to be strong. All of the alien races have such diversity that learning about them each is a lot of fun. The way that the CDF and the Special Forces get along and interact with each other is a strong component to this novel. The universe that Scalzi creates is unlike anything else that I have read because of the transfer of consciousnesses by the CDF. My favorite part of the world that Scalzi has created is figuring out what role the humans are playing in the universe. There are times when the humans are seen as the true antagonists but the reader really doesn’t know.
Writing – 3(Fine)
Scalzi brings his fast-paced writing into The Ghost Brigades but also puts in his classic Scalzi interjections about philosophy and ideas. I felt that this book in particular didn’t bridge the gap as well as previous books he has written with the transition between narrative and dialogue talking about ideas.
I felt that the beginning of The Ghost Brigades could have been stronger. It took me some time to become engaged with this story because the beginning was mostly shown through the eyes of random characters. Once Dirac was created, the story picked up, and became much more interesting. I felt that the Kynan beginning was a little long.
William Dufries does an impeccable job narrating this audio book. He gives character and personality to everyone. You can tell that he read the book, decided on how he was going to approach each scene, and made an effort to give life to each and every character.
Heart & Mind Factor – 3(Fine)
The mind factor played a role in The Ghost Brigade. The question that was the center of the entire story was, “what makes up who we are?” We are what we experience and not just our memories. We must have the tactile experience to anchor our memories because without the bookmarks in our head, we are nothing. We are the sum of all our experiences and even if we think exactly like someone else, our experiences in life is what creates individuals. Two identical twins are basically the same person when they are born but over time they become separate individuals.
Also Scalzi wants us to look at choice in The Ghost Brigades. No matter what our surroundings, background, or experience is, we have a choice as to what we will do.
Recommendation: I recommend The Ghost Brigades to anyone looking to continue reading Old Man’s War and I also feel that this book can be a stand alone too. If you want to read something about a consciousness being put into another person and if the new consciousness will be anything like the original, then check this book out. The action sequences in this story are better than what were in Old Man’s War too.