Tuesday, July 29, 2008


By John Scalzi
Tor Books
343 pages

I’ve always been a sucker for military sci-fi. A few years ago someone gave me a copy of John Scalzi’s book, OLD MAN’S WAR and I devoured it. Scalzi envisiones a future wherein man has reached the stars and found them populated by some truly hostile aliens Defending human colonists are the Colonial Defense Forces, made up of enhanced soldiers recruited from the ranks of the earth’s senior citizens population. Seniors are given the chance to have their consciousness transferred into new, stronger bodies genetically altered for peak performance. Their blood is made up of nano-bots for quick healing and each CDF soldier is implanted with a pea sized computer directly into their brain. These Brain-Pals aid the newly awaken warrior cope with his new form and the savage wars he or she is about to participate in.

Towards the end of that first book, we learned that even among CDF troops there existed an even tougher branch known as Special Forces. Many of the seniors who signed on to participate in the CDF actually died before they could be fully intergrated into their new bodies. From these deceased volunteers, the CDF had taken DNA samples. From these DNA samples they proceed to clone new, more advanced bodies. Unlike the CDF recruits who had their personal psyches transferred to their new host bodies, clone warriors are born without any past identities. During the cloning process, Special Forces are genetically engineered to be the most loyal, professional soldiers ever imagined. Yet they must evolve new personalities. Realborns call them the Ghost Brigades.

In this adventure, second of a trilogy, the CDF finds itself dealing with a traitorous scientist named Charles Boutin, an expert in consciousness mapping and Brain-Pals. For his own unfathomable reasons, Boutin flees his labs and seeks political asylum with an enemy alien race. Afraid of what Boutin might give this race, CDF generals are frantic to discover the meaning of his defection and how much secret data he escaped with. When it is discovered Boutin left behind a copy of his own consciousness, a daring plan is devised to imprint that very consciousness onto a newly hatched Ghost Brigade clone. Of course it is a double-edged sword. Will the clone really be able to access the scientists store of knowledge and solve their puzzle or will he evolve into a second traitor and betray them?

Once Jared Dirac is brought to life, the book kicks into high gear as we follow the newborn’s entry into the Special Forces excellerated training program. By the use of their hyper-fast Brain-Pals, Dirac and his team can communicate instantaneously, transferring huge amounts of data in micro-seconds. Jared is just a regular member of the squad until the day, after returning from a particularly harrowing mission, he suddenly has flashes of Charles Boutin’s memories. These are so vivid as to detail the traitor’s current whereabouts. Once Jared tells his superiors, a mission to retrieve Boutin is quickly conceived. Dirac will be a part of a Special Forces unit sent deep into enemy space to retrieve the turncoat scientist.

Scalzi never lets up on the suspense and action. His story is both exciting and stimulating as his delves into themes of personal identity in regards to manufactured people with only copies of consciousness. Do they possess souls apart from their originating DNA codes, or do such things as soul truly exist? What really makes up the mind? All of these ideas are brilliantly interwoven through this grand, all-out action saga. THE GHOST BRIGADES is one of the finest science fiction books I’ve ever enjoyed. Now it’s time to go find that third and final chapter of this truly fantastic series.

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