The Ghost Brigades, the second book in the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi. Here’s a one word review of the book: Awesome. And here’s a two word review: Frakking awesome. That not enough? Well, hit the jump for a longer one. Spoiler warning, though.If you haven’t read the series, then here’s a brief primer: The series in set in a future where humanity has moved out to the stars via the Colonial Union. The Union recruits colonists from Earth’s third world countries, and its soldiers from the first world’s elderly population. The latter is needed because planetary real estate is limited and heavily contested by other alien species in our neck of the woods. This is due largely to the somewhat limited range of the FTL propulsion system employed by all the races, called Skip Drive.
Now, you’re probably puzzling over the whole “recruiting old people as soldiers” thing. The reason is because the elderly are more willing to take the risks because the Colonial Defense Force - the military arm of the Colonial Union - offers them something tantalizing: youth. In exchange for a few scant years of service, the CDF promises to free them of the burdens of being old. The former is a bit enigmatic about how, but as shown in the first book of the series, Old Man’s War, its warranted. The CDF uses technology to create a new, infinitely improved bodies for their recruits (based on their DNA) and transfers their consciousness into it. The bodies themselves are amazing and I plan on discussing them and other technology in the book in a latter post, but suffice to say, I think a lot of people in real life would jump at the chance to have that kind of body.
Back to The Ghost Brigades, the plot of the book involves the discovery by the CDF that one of their top scientists faked his death and ran off to aid a trio of aliens races in their plot to not just defeat the CU, but destroy it. As it turns out, this scientist, named Charles Boutin, had developed a way to copy of a person’s consciousness (specifically, his own) and store it. A plan is soon hatched where the special forces create a body using Boutin’s DNA and transfer the copy of his consciousness into the body in order to find out what his plan was. Unfortunately, the transfer doesn’t seem to work and the body, with its artificial consciousness, is handed over to the special forces to use.
The special forces are an interesting sort. For one, they lack the consciousness of “realborn”, as regular humans are called. Instead, they’re created without one, though interestingly, they do develop it thanks to a tiny computer inside their brain called a BrainPal. Another interesting thing is the naming scheme used for the special forces: They’re given a randomly selected first name, but their last name is taken from a famous scientist, like Sagan, Einstein, etc. In this case, the main character is named Jared Dirac.
As it turns out, the experiment wasn’t a complete failure as Boutins memories do surface after being triggered. After that, the CDF and special forces attempt to force more memories by having Jared explore Boutin’s life.
I don’t want to give up the ghost on what happens, but as I said at the beginning of the post, it’s frakking awesome. Scalzi makes you care about Jared and you’ll find yourself smiling as he makes strides in his humanity and empathize when tragedy strikes. The last part of the book tough, but I felt happy for the characters by the end.
Needless to say, I give The Ghost Brigades a strong recommend. Read the first book in the series first, though, as TGB makes several references to it.