Saturday, May 19, 2007

Review: The Ghost Brigades

I reviewed John Scalzi's latest novel, The Last Colony a while back and found it intriguing enough to place holds on his other books at the library. As luck would have it, the books are arriving in reverse order, so I'm reading his oldest work last.

Fortunately, the novel is self-contained, and provides all the background you need in order to understand its context. The plot revolves around a scientist, Charles Boutin, who has defected to an alien race against the humans. What do you do in response? Well, in Scalzi's universe, what you do is to genetically engineer a brain (with a body, of course), force-grow it in several months, and then transfer an imprint of the renegade's consciousness into the new super-body. (It's a super-body because for whatever reason, the powers that be decided to use the special forces imprint for the body so that the effort will at least produce a super soldier if the original plans don't work out)

Well, the imprint does not take, at least initially, so we get a good view of how Special Forces in the Colonial Union works. The story moves pretty quickly, since with the kind of brainware and special coping mechanisms used to train special forces units, the training can be done in just two weeks (why they don't just use the same type of units in all the soldiers I don't quite understand).

In any case, trauma affects the protaganist, Jared Dirac (all of Scalzi's special forces have last names of twentieth century scientists), and he starts regaining Boutin's memories. After he remembers where Boutin went, he is sent as part of the mission to retrieve Boutin, and things start going horribly awry, leading to a confrontation of Boutin and his motivations.

The book is well-written, though not as polished as his latest novel. It is a real page-turner. I started reading it last night, and found myself ignoring newspapers and other books in favor of reading this. There are a few plot holes that don't quite make sense (a military as paranoid as the Colonial Union would have installed anti-viral safeguards and protected against back-doors), but the plot moves you along and you don't have too many moments to question the premise.

All in all, a good read. Once again, the ideal airplane novel. Recommended.
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