John Scalzi,
Ghost Brigades
(Tor, 2006)

Ghost Brigades follows Old Man's War, but is less a sequel than simply the next chapter in the history of this fictive universe. The basic premise of both books is that in the future, humanity has colonized many planets and discovered other intelligent species in the galaxy. Sadly, everyone is into the colonizing thing, creating competition, also called "war." Humanity's answer is the Colonial Union (CU) and its military arm, the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF). Where do they get recruits for the CDF? Well, Earth is overcrowded. But, the CDF doesn't want inexperienced recruits, nor those who have grown up in poverty. The answer: at age 65, people can sign up for the CDF and then they can enlist at 75.

What does a military force want with 75-year-old recruits? The recruits don't know, but assume that the CDF will somehow rejuvenate them. You see, the CU and the CDF started on Earth, but have separated themselves from Earth, have bought, borrowed or taken technology from many other species, and have moved way beyond Earth technologically.

But there is a subset of the people who sign up at 65, but die before they reach enlistment age. What happens to them? The CDF takes the DNA samples of these people, creates clones, enhances them genetically and technologically even more than the standard CDF soldiers, and calls them "Special Forces." Everyone else calls them the "Ghost Brigades." These soldiers are "awakened" with no memories of the lives their "progies" (their deceased DNA donors) led. Special Forces are given the toughest jobs, and are known for their ruthless efficiency, as they are not hindered by any ideas that might interfere with their success as soldiers.

Jane Sagan is a Special Forces lieutenant, and was the love interest of the main character, John Perry, in Old Man's War. Jane is one of two main characters in Ghost Brigades, with the other being Jared Dirac. Who is Jared Dirac? That turns out to be a tough question to answer.

Charles Boutin was a civilian scientist who worked for the CU, helping them advance their consciousness transfer process, until he sold out to the enemy, spilled secrets and committed suicide. But did he? It turns out that Boutin was quite devious, and might not be so dead after all. The CDF then clones his body, enhances it into a supersoldier, transfers Boutin's stored personality/consciousness pattern into the clone, and you get ... Jared Dirac. But, Jared cannot remember anything of Charles Boutin, including why he turned traitor.

So, what do they do? They send Jared and Jane off to find Boutin, if he really is still alive. Do they find him? What else do they find along the way?

Many people seem to think that Ghost Brigades is good, but not quite as good as Old Man's War. I disagree. While much of the novelty of the concepts found in Old Man's War is not here, there are new ideas introduced, a lot of action scenes, new characters and a very, very good story. It is darker, grittier and more intense than its predecessor, and I like it. My understanding is that there is one more book coming in this set, with the somewhat ominous-sounding title of The Last Colony. I can't wait!

by Chris McCallister
17 June 2006

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