The Ghost Brigades
(c) 2006 John Scalzi
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War introduced readers to a harsh future, in which humanity competes for space in a crowded galaxy, fighting tooth and nail against a variety of alien baddies. Out of sheer necessity, the Colonial Defense Forces have been forced to create an army of augments — but within its ranks are even more altered troops, the Special Forces — or, as common soldiers call them, the Ghost Brigades. Scalzi’s expansion of the Old Man’s War story focuses on them specifically, beginning with a betrayal and a desperate scramble for answers. The CDF’s attempt to find out why one of their own researchers would fake his own death and join alien ranks sees them attempt to infuse a recording of the traitor’s consciousness into the body of a newly-grown clone, in hopes that the clone will give them answers. Instead, the clone — Jared Diroc — becomes his own person, and takes his place in the Special Forces. Before long, though, the dormant personality within Jared will begin to assert itself, and lead him down an entirely separate road.
I commented in my review for Old Man’s War that its most interesting element was consciousness transferal, and that takes center stage here, driving the plot and creating both our main character and his antagonist. The Ghost Brigades are interesting in their own right, however, from a techno-humanist perspective: they’re not only genetically augmented, but have internal brain implants that allow them to process and absorb information rapidly, almost like Neo in The Matrix, and connect them to one another so that squads are tightly integrated. Jared Diroc is perfectly happy with his squadmates as they tend to the business of the Defense Forces — killin’ aliens — but an experience on shore leave suddenly brings to life the other man inside his brain, and there the action really picks up. Humanity was already in trouble, facing a potential alliance of three alien races at once, but once Jared begins to struggle with his alter-consciousness, he realizes the danger is even more acute than previously realized. This leads to a desperate gamble in which everything goes wrong — but results in a seat of the pants action thriller all the way to the end.
Although I found the premise of Old Man’s War interesting enough, having read The Ghost Brigades I’m sold on reading the rest of the series. Plot developments herein point to a far more interesting galactic scene than previously thought!