The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi


Published by Tor
April 2006
ISBN 0-765-31502-5
314 Pages
Author Web site:


In a non-descript future, the Humanity Colonial Union is fighting for survival at the edge of the galaxy, against aliens hostile to all human life. The Colonial Union is continually trying to enhance its Defense Forces against a hostile universe. The primary pool of recruitment for the Colonial Defense is people on their 75th birthday. While this group of recruits comprises the majority of the Defense Forces, it isn’t quite enough to combat aliens with more sophisticated technology than ours. This is where the Special Forces, The Ghost Brigades, comprised of deceased soldiers, or rather, recycled soldiers enters the planetary battlefield. In John Scalzi’s universe, these soldiers are viewed with awe and wonder, with positive and negative connotations, by members of the main Defense Force.

The tale centers on a recycled soldier, Jared Dirac. Like the novel itself, Jared is much more than simply a soldier. Jared Dirac houses the consciousness of Charles Boutin, a traitor to the human race, who decided to ally himself with humanity’s alien enemies. While he was on humanity’s side, Boutin developed a method for copying the pattern of human consciousness and transferring it to a new body. Boutin is able to escape, despite leaving a copy of his consciousness behind, into another cloned body. This is fortunate for the Colonial Defense Force and how Jared Dirac comes into existence – a body cloned from Boutin’s genes is grown with a shadow of his consciousness added. It is with Jared that the Defense Force, particularly the Ghost Brigades, hopes to find Boutin and prevent further steps towards the Colonial Union, and humanity’s destruction at his traitorous hands.

Although the novel is placed hundreds of years in the future and galaxies away from our own, Scalzi gives the novel an air of a tightly-crafted mystery in space. One might say the novel is like a murder mystery turned on its rear. The reader knows who the killer is, we are just waiting for him to emerge in the protagonist. In this, John Scalzi keeps the reader and the characters who brought Boutin into the world guessing. At each turn and battle in which Dirac is engaged, questions about Boutin’s consciousness coming out of the dark are raised.

This future, and all its technological advances, allows Scalzi to raise significant questions to consider, questions often at the heart of good science fiction: what is the nature of identity? How does one fit within society? Who are the people behind the faces running the show? Can a clone have the same rights as normal human?

One of the questions about identity Scalzi’s novel raises is maturity and age. For all intents and purposes, Jared and his peers in the Ghost Brigades, are full-grown infants. This presents a conflict within each member of the Brigades, in addition to their conflict with “real” humans who are truly adults, and not just in looks. Part of the fun with the novel is encountering these conflicts and questions.

While this book is in the same universe as Scalzi’s Hugo-nominated Old Man’s War, he successfully wrote this as standalone. Only a secondary character from Old Man’s War appears here, so the connection is not necessary to enjoying The Ghost Brigades. Both are very enjoyable reads, although Old Man’s War had a stronger sense of humor. On the whole, though, The Ghost Brigades is a rewarding, entertaining read and keeps the reader guessing at turns, as the adrenaline pumps in both the battles between armies and mental skirmishes between its characters.

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© 2006 Rob H. Bedford

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