The Ghost Brigades is book two of the Old Man’s War series. In the first volume, seventy-five-year-old John Perry abandons his life on Earth, joins the Colonial Defense Force, and heads off into space to protect mankind’s far flung colonies. Once there, his consciousness is transferred into a young, superhuman body; he learns that space is a very dangerous place for humans; he rediscovers part of someone very important to him in the form of Jane Sagan; and he becomes an old-fashioned hero before riding off into the sunset. And that is where Brigades picks up the story, except it doesn’t do that, because John Perry doesn’t make an appearance. Instead, Mr. Scalzi takes the story in a whole new direction with a tale about the Special Forces of the CDF: soldiers created from the genetic material of dead people (that is why they are called `Ghosts’, get it?)
Without a doubt, the novel begins with a bang, as a team of Ghosts (lead by returning character Jane Sagan) executes a daring raid on an Obin colony world. Once through the defenses, the Special Forces capture a single Rraey scientist, who is later coerced into explaining why he is helping the Eneshan when his people and theirs have been enemies for years.
From this alien survivor, the CDF discovers that one of their worst fears is coming true: the Rraey, Eneshan and Obin have formed an alliance to destroy mankind. Not only that but somehow a senior scientist of Military Research, Charles Boutin, is aiding these aliens in their plot – surprising since he has been dead and buried for years!
When Harry Wilson (another returning character) discovers a digitized recording of Boutin’s consciousness, the CDF brass hatches a desperate plan: bring the traitorous scientist back to life in a new body. Thereafter, the normal process to make “Ghosts” is used to produce a modified body from Boutin’s DNA and his consciousness is transferred into it. The only problem is that when the new Boutin awakes he has no memories of his former life.
With no use for a Boutin in such a condition but deciding he must be watched, Jared Dirac (as the CDF names him) is placed into the Ghost Brigades under the able command of Jane Sagan. Her orders to watch Jared for any sign that his memory is returning and to keep him from turning into another traitor!
Through the use of a multi viewpoint narrative, Mr. Scalzi delivers an action-packed sci-fi adventure that has equal doses pulse-pounding combat, interesting history, dramatic mysteries, and complex moral issues like “How can a race be morally correct in destroying another species to save itself?” The Ghosts and Jared Dirac are naturally the stars of the show, but a reader never forgets that there are galaxy-wide issues that are going on that might jeopardize the continued existence of the human race.
If there is anything at all to complain about in The Ghost Brigades, it would be Jane Sagan for me. Where in Old Man’s War, we saw her begin to transition past her Ghost demeanor into something more resembling a normal human, here she is very cold and dispassionate, refusing to give Jared any emotional sympathy or empathy until the very end of the novel. While I understand she does not trust the reborn Boutin, her lack of warmth of any kind annoyed me and made her seem like a completely different character than what I was familiar with.
All in all, though, this sequel was a great one: building upon the good things from the first novel and adding many more. Sure, it might have wrapped up the story of Charles Boutin, but Brigades sets the stage for some huge events in the novels to come. So unless you hate military science fiction, this one has to be on your “To Be Read” List.