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    Review of THE GHOST BRIGADES by John Scalzi (see his website)

    Tor, March 2006

    Humanity is not alone in the universe--and nobody else out there much likes them. Unfortunately, everyone else out there seems to be better warriors, too. Which is why human scientists have come up with technologies for integrating communications and computers into soldiers, using quick growth techniques to turn out bodies for the war effort, and even to put consciousness into these vat-grown entities. The human Colonial Defense Force's ultimate weapon, however, is the Ghost Brigade. Designed as warriors from ground up, Ghost Brigade special forces members have become soldiers the day they reach consciousness and are sent to do the jobs that nobody else in the Colonial Union would do.

    When word arrives that a former top scientist, a man thought to be dead, is actually a traitor who has created an alliance between three rival species aimed at wiping out the Colonial Union, the CDF military knows it's in trouble. They could take on any one of those races and hope to survive, but against three, humanity seems doomed. Hoping to get some insight into the traitor, they force his awareness into the body of a specially created special forces member whom they give the name Jared Dirac. At first, Dirac has no contact with the traitor's memories, but eventually he begins to find them. Unfortunately for the Colonial Union, the memories he gains are those relating to family and emotion rather than to science and treason. Still, they give him enough to hint at where the traitor might be hiding.

    Author John Scalzi mixes the usually separate genres of thoughtful SF and military SF in an intriguing story. Jared, a man who is created for a purpose and given a mind that just might turn traitor at any time, is a sympathetic and interesting character. The tight networking he gains with other members of his Ghost Brigade team, increases the stories emotional intensity.

    Scalzi does an excellent job demonstrating the way moral ambivalence creeps in in the emergency of warfare. The CDF raid on a supposedly allied race--even though the CU had reason to believe that race had thrown in with humanity's enemies, is certainly morally questionable at best, and sets the stage for understanding why the traitor turned against the CU. By motivating the characters, including those who fight against Dirac and his friends, Scalzi increases reader interest and elevates his story beyond the simple adventure that is too-often found in military SF.

    I did have some problems with the internal logic in Scalzi's story, however. First, I had a hard time buying the success of the diplomatic portion of the mission against the Eneshan. Once the heir is dead, the Eneshan had no real reason to stay loyal to the humans and every reason to turn against them. Surely they would have known this--perhaps keeping the heir alive as a future pawn rather than slaughtering it (important though this was to Dirac's development, it isn't good writing to sacrifice story logic to force the story to turn in a certain way). I also had a hard time believing the CDF would bother trying to recapture the traitor. Why not simply destroy him, as they intended to destroy the base. Having the traitor back might yield some intelligence benefits, but certainly not benefits that could possibly outweigh the danger.

    THE GHOST BRIGADES is an intriguing story--with plenty of plot twists, with the compellingly drawn character of Jared Dirac, and with nicely thought out technological and social innovations. Some plot holes keep this book from being as powerful as it could have been, but it still makes a first-rate reading experience.

    See more reviews of novels by John Scalzi.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/31/07

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