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The Ghost Brigades [Mass Market Paperback]

John Scalzi
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2007
The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They're young, they're fast and strong, and they're totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity--and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF's biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.
Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -- a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared's brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.
At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin's memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason's for Boutin's betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity's mere military defeat…

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From Publishers Weekly

This fast-paced interstellar military drama doesn't quite meet the high expectations set by its predecessor, Scalzi's acclaimed Old Man's War (2005), but it comes impressively close. Shifting focus from seniors in young bodies to infants in old bodies, it follows Jared Dirac, a superhuman soldier, from unusual birth to ambiguous death. Dirac is an altered clone of Charles Boutin, a military scientist who betrayed humankind to alien aggressors, and the Colonial Defense Forces' only hope of finding Boutin lies in transplanting his memories into Dirac's brain. When the transplant seems to fail, Dirac is sent to Special Forces, known as the Ghost Brigades for their habit of creating new soldiers from the DNA of the dead. His indoctrination there comes in handy when Boutin's memories begin to surface. Scalzi pays gleeful homage to Ender's Game, The Forever War and Starship Troopers, sometimes at the expense of originality. All he needs to make the jump from good to great is to trust in his own ideas. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Scalzi's riveting and original Old Man's War (2005) introduced readers to the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF), an Earth-based galactic army composed of senior citizens rejuvenated by high-tech wizardry into youthful warriors. In this equally engaging, battle-driven sequel, the CDF's latest operation entails tracking down renegade scientist Charles Boutin, who is responsible for handing over deadly military secrets to humanity's extraterrestrial enemies. Fortunately, a computer-based replica of Boutin's consciousness is on file and ready for transfer into newly cloned special-forces soldier Jirad Dirac, who shares Boutin's DNA. When the consciousness transfer doesn't quite take, Dirac is handed off to a battalion for routine but closely monitored training. Just when Dirac is getting comfortable with his own identity, however, Boutin's memories kick in, and Dirac and his team are summarily dispatched to an enemy planet to capture Boutin and solve the mystery of his treason before humanity is destroyed. Scalzi skillfully weaves together action, memorable characterizations, and a touch of philosophy in a first-rate military sf outing. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fun Book For Fans of Old Man's War July 28 2009
By Daiken
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I think if you read Old Man's War and enjoyed it, then you'll probably love this book too. While the story focuses on Jane, it was still a fantastic read. It's a bit more philosophical, but really the best thing about the book is the story in my opinion. The characters are likable, the book has good pacing, flows well, has deeper meaning for those that care to look for it, and is overall just fun. I still consider Old Man's War a better book, but this still met my expectations.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I cared enough to cry. April 7 2013
By Nbthor
Format:Kindle Edition
That pretty much sums it up. I could sort of see the end coming, but it twisted away from my expectations enough that I was in the end not disappointed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fun Jan. 15 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A good read, further exploring the universe introduced in Old Man's War. Explores interesting questions about what makes us human in the form of a rollicking tale.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Mass Market Paperback
John Scalzi won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Gee, I wonder why?

While not as fantastic as his debut, Old Man’s War, Scalzi still sets the bar high with his followup novel, set in the same universe where mankind has ventured out into a hostile universe populated with hundreds of alien species, and responds with engineering, perserverance, and small feats of bio engineering like the Ghost Brigades.

The Ghost Brigades were introduced briefly in Old Man’s War in the form of Jane Sagan, a nine year old with some of the DNA of the lead character’s dead wife. The soldiers in the Ghost Brigade are grown, given “BrainPal” computers in their head, and then linked to their squad mates.

Jane Sagan plays a back-up role here. The main plot follows Jared Dirac, a Ghost Brigade soldier who is built to put a presumed dead traitor’s consciousness inside his head. It doesn’t take at first, so he becomes a member of the Ghost Brigades. It does take later, but to detail more would mean spoiling the story.

Scalzi continues to expand upon the universe of aliens he has created, and to explain the science the humans are using to combat them in clear, logical terms. (Science and fiction, get it?) The humans seem to be beset on all sides by agressive aliens, but which side is really the aggressor?

John gets into some excellent philosophical discussions about choice and right to choose, which is right in line with the “created for a purpose” ghost brigades.

An excellent story, a quick read, a new fav author. On to the third in the series.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  392 reviews
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Free to Live March 6 2006
By Patrick Shepherd - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is billed as a sequel to Old Man's War, but it really isn't. While set in the same universe, it has only marginal ties to the earlier book, in the person of Jane Sagan, John Perry's love interest in that book. Instead, this book is a much closer look at the Special Forces, soldiers created from the genetic material of several people, including some now dead (hence the `Ghost' appellation). These people are force grown, then decanted into the world with their Brain Pal as their immediate mentor, giving them the capabilities and knowledge of adults when only hours old. The same Brain Pal technology allows them to integrate with their squad mates: a form of aided telepathy that allows not only for quick training but gives these individuals a sense of community and family they would otherwise not have.

The story revolves around the search for a traitorous scientist, Charles Boutin, who helped developed the Brain Pal technology and the ability to store and relocate a person's consciousness (or, depending on your point of view, their soul). Jared Dirac is a newly created clone (with enhancements) of this person, and an attempt is made to load Dirac's brain with a copy Boutin's consciousness in an effort to find out why Boutin became a traitor and where he might have gone. This attempt apparently doesn't work, and Dirac is placed with a Special Forces squad led by Jane. Dirac's development as a person is the main focus of the work from this point on.

The book starts well, with an action-oriented opening chapter that grabs, but then the next fifty pages drag somewhat, as Scalzi sets up the scenario for the rest of the book and explains the technology and military situation. This section is too long, and I felt that much of this material should have been better integrated with the prime story. When Dirac joins his squad, things pick up again; his 'training' and the first couple of military actions he is part of are probably the best part of this book. The last quarter of the book falls off a little again, as the thematic focus of the book comes to the fore - that of what makes an individual 'free' - free to make his own choices, free to decide for himself what is correct and moral, free to live his own life without being subject to the imperatives of not only others, but his genetic heritage. Only a little of this theme is directly explicated, but it dominates the action of the final portion of this book.

The political/military situation is nicely envisaged, with three alien races allied against humanity, and each of these races are well defined in their differences from humanity. The human's military strategy to break up this alliance is well thought out, and plays upon each race's unique characteristics. It also brings up a secondary thematic point of this book, about what actions are 'moral' and justified in war, when the very survival of the species is at stake, and just what the basis is for deciding whether humanity should survive.

Not as strong as Old Man's War, with too much poorly integrated 'background' material, but still a good read, with lots of food for thought nestled in its pages.

--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Old Man's War Aug. 11 2008
By J. Calton - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Other than names, no specifics (i.e., spoilers) are given in this review. Incidentally, I do not consider 3 stars to be a "bad" review--the book is okay. It is fine as a bridge between Old Man's War (O.M.W.) and the Last Colony [anyone else find that title to be a bit of a spoiler?].

Make sure you read OMW first. It comes first sequentially, but is also a much better book. While Ghost Brigades uses the same recipe as the first book, it uses inferior ingredients in cooking up a similar piece of fiction.

The protagonist from OMW (John Perry) is missing from this book. The other characters from OMW that DO appear in the sequel are flat. Jane Sagan, who should have a great deal more depth and empathy than anyone else in the Special Forces, is completely superfluous to the story [anyone could have replaced her as the SF commander]. She is not developed one iota from the first book, and appears to have actually flattened in the interim.
Harry Wilson returns in what could have been a great supporting role, but is made completely unnecessary by a scientist called Cainen.

The "mystery" inherent to the story suffers from at least one major plot-hole: no one ever reads the suspect's personnel file. The characters involved ALL have the highest level of clearances, including two generals, one colonel, and a military intelligence officer (Sagan), among others. They live in a world in which the internet more-or-less exists inside everyone's head. Files can be downloaded and read almost instantaneously. While trying to deduce the villain's motivations, it simply never occurs to them to access his file.
The mystery also suffers from other common problems: part I of the big reveal is obvious to everyone but the characters in the book, and part II is based on facts not given to the reader at any point in the story.

But all is not lost: the protagonist's (Jared Dirac's) development is fairly engaging. The concept for the story which drives the action is excellent (but only mediocre execution). The action sequences, though sparse, are generally well-written and exciting. If you are a reader anxious to revisit OMW's universe [but not its characters], you will get your wish. This book gives quite a lot of secondary information to understanding past and current events of the Colonial Union, as well as some technological explanations for the science-minded. [I'm not saying they are good explanations--I'm no scientist--but they are there.]
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brain Possessed Oct. 10 2007
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Ghost Brigades (2006) is the second novel in the Old Man's War series, following Old Man's War. In the previous volume, John Perry became an official CDF hero and made barnstorming tours around the colonies. Jane Sagan went back to work in the Special Forces, AKA the Ghost Brigades.

In this novel, Jane leads a raid on an Obin colony world. The Special Forces take one Rraey prisoner from the Eneshan facility. After a slight biological adjustment of his body, Jane convinces the Rraey to cooperate.

The prisoner Cainen tells of a concerted effort by the Rraey, Eneshan and Obin to conquer the Terran colonies. This alliance has resulted from the defection of one human -- Charles Boutin -- who had been a senior scientist in Military Research. The Colonial Defense Forces were greatly surprised at this news, since Boutin was already dead and buried.

When Harry Wilson finds a recording of Boutin's consciousness among his effects, the CDF decides to create another version of the man. The standard Special Forces processing is used to produce a modified body from Boutin's DNA. Then the recorded consciousness is downloaded into it. Everything goes according to plan, except that the resulting mind seems to be a tabula rasa.

In this story, the new body is named Jared Dirac and integrated into a Special Forces training squad. After his training, Jared is assigned to a Special Forces ship under Lieutenant Jane Sagan. He serves in the Special Forces for almost a year before something brings back one of Boutin's memories.

Jared is reassigned to Military Research to try to stimulate more memories. Cainen and Harry Wilson work with him on the project. He is gradually gaining more memories and his mind displays are looking more like Boutin's every day. Then they send him to Boutin's former home station in hopes that the familiar surroundings will bring further progress. Since the station is now in Obin hands, Jared has to sneak into the habitat and the aliens detect his presence.

This story provides more information on the CDF, the Colonial Union, and their relationships with the nearby aliens. It also mentions weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons and biological warfare. The nukes are used as shipkillers and one passage implies that they have been used against alien colonies. The Obin have also used a virus to destroy an army of alien clones.

This tale also introduces a new type of WMD: cybernetic weapons. Computer viruses and other hostile softwares have appeared prominently in many SF stories. Now, however, the author has created a possibility of mass destruction through such a virus.

This sequel builds upon, but differs greatly from, the first novel. Some continuity is provided by characters and institutions, but the plot is nothing like the first story. A difficult effect, but well done. Enjoy!

Highly recommended for Scalzi fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of military operations, transferred consciousness, and dutiful persons.

-Arthur W. Jordin
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another page turner from Scalzi Feb. 22 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like Old Man's War, this new novel is somewhere between a fanboy's homage and a real work of art- but it's a lot closer to the latter than the former. The alliance of three hostile species alluded to in the blurbs adds more than enough tension to keep the atmosphere sizzling, and the habits of some of the species encountered bring horror to the table as well. The surprises keep coming as we learn more about the CDF's Special Forces, and Jane Sagan (from OMW) plays a large part in the story.

It's been a long time since I sat down with a new book and read it from beginning to end, probably since Rosenberg's 'Paladins.' Thanks very much, Mr. Scalzi.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life of the Special Forces is never dull June 4 2006
By David Roy - Published on
The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi, is the follow-up novel to Old Man's War. It's not a direct sequel, though subsequent events will show that it actually is, in a sense. Instead, it features the love of John Perry's life, Jane Sagan, Special Forces ("Ghost Brigades") officer. This book is a lot grittier than the Old Man's War, and the point of view choices are much different. It's just as effective, though, with fewer of the faults of the previous book.

In the future, humans have gone to the stars, but they aren't allowed to go back. Humans have colonized planets, but they have run up against a number of alien races that don't want them there, and war inevitably develops. Jane Sagan, a lieutenant in the Ghost Brigades (the Colonial Defense Forces "Special Forces"), captures an alien scientist with information about a triple alliance of races who don't seem very likely to ally. They also discover that the instigator of this plot to start a war with the CDF is a human traitor, a genius named Charles Boutin. Before he left, he downloaded his consciousness into a computer, so the CDF decide to clone his body and try to install his consciousness into it, to see if they can figure out Boutin's plan and motivations. It doesn't seem to work, so they give the resulting "person", Jared Dirac, to the Ghost Brigades for their training and use. But as time goes on, the other consciousness begins to emerge, and Jane will ultimately have to determine whether Jared is with them, or that he must be killed.

The Ghost Brigades is an awesome continuation of Scalzi's series, taken in a whole new direction so that it doesn't go stale. He doesn't continue the adventures of John Perry, as that could get boring. He's just a soldier in a never-ending war, and Scalzi would have to come up with something really creative to make that interesting. Instead, he shows us the Ghost Brigades, something that he gave us a part of in the previous book, only hinting at the potential.

Also, this book has much more of a point than before. While Sagan plays a vital role in the book, it's not really about her, and thus it's not just "tales of the Special Forces." Everything is geared to Boutin and his ultimate plan, and the story centers on Jared because of this. We see his integration into the Ghost Brigades, we see his training. But it's not the seemingly aimless training that Perry went through, a means to an end to illustrate the galaxy Scalzi has created while introducing us to the concepts. It shapes Jared, highlighting just how integrated all Ghost units are (by using their brain-implanted computers, called Brainpals).

While the story is much more focused, the points of view aren't. We get Sagan's and Jared's, but we also see some of the officers (both Ghosts and regular CDF), illustrating what life is like in the officer's corps. It also gives us a big-picture view of what is really going on, and the stakes that are at risk if Boutin's plan comes to fruition. This provides Ghost Brigades a broad scope even as the story itself narrows in on one problem. We see some of the truth behind the CDF, both Boutin's warped view of it (which sounds somewhat convincing if he wasn't such a maniac) and the reality of it.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Scalzi's brilliant characterization. These people jump off the page, from the more minor characters to Sagan and Jared. I loved General Szilard, head of the Ghost Brigades. The Ghosts aren't supposed to have a sense of humour, but he has obviously been around long enough to develop one. His interactions with the CDF liaison, Colonel Robbins, were wonderful, especially in the Officers' Mess, where underlings can attend but can't eat. The scene with Szilard and the cookie are worth the price of admission alone.

However, it's Sagan and Jared that make this book sing. Sagan is reluctant to be Jared's guardian, but she takes on the task and develops a respect for him even as she's not sure she can trust him. She's an intelligent leader, compassionate, and thorough. My first thoughts on Jared when I began this review was to criticize the emotional distance we seem to have with him at times. He develops a love for one of his squadmates, but it never actually seems "real." However, on thinking about it, that just illustrates Jared's emotional isolation even more. He is a man (boy, really, as he's only a year or so old at the end of the book) who was grown for a purpose. He has even less control of his life than do most of the Ghosts, who while bred only for combat, at least know what the meaning of their life is. Jared doesn't even have that certainty. He'll always have that disadvantage, and Scalzi brings that out perfectly.

Finally, the action is relentless, but again it's not your typical military SF. Scalzi doesn't dwell on the technology or the broad military tactics. There are some pretty horrific deaths in the book, but nothing too disgusting (except in concept, of course, such as falling from low orbit). He just gives the reader enough to understand what's going on and then gets to the action itself. This time, he puts a little philosophy in there as well. He did that with Old Man's War too, but it doesn't feel as forced this time around.

The Ghost Brigades seems to wrap up the personal storyline of the series' main protagonists, but it sets up some huge events for the galaxy at large for the next book. There are certainly no major flaws to hinder the enjoyment of this wonderful book. Unless you have a huge aversion to any kind of military SF, pick this one up.

David Roy
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