The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi – 2005)

I was very enthralled when I read Scalzi’s debut novel “Old Man’s War“. The suggestions that his writing style mimicked that of Robert Heinlein proved to be accurate and I was immediately taken by the story. So it was with great enthusiasm that I jumped into the sequel “The Ghost Brigades”.

But as I began reading, my enthusiasm quickly faded. While there was nothing particularly wrong, I simply was not drawn into to story either and soon found myself just plodding along. When I passed the halfway point without any spark, I seriously considered dropping the title and moving on. And that’s when things got interesting. By the time I reached the end I was fully engrossed and yearned for more.

Unlike the science explored in the preceding novel, that of acquiring alien-like rejuvenated bodies, the protagonist in this story is a clone. But not just a clone of anyone. He is the clone of the one man that betrayed humanity by siding with an alien force capable of wiping out mankind. But these aliens are but one of many alien entities fighting one another as they colonize space, and humans, like all the other alien races, have these ‘on again’, ‘off again’ allegiances and wars.

Charles Boutin is the scientist that has turned who even created a clone of himself that he then destroyed in order to fake his own death. But the military knows that he is still alive and in order to find him they make their own clone, Jared Dirac. Jared is infused with an imprint of Charles’ memories, but these memories must be unlocked by the correct stimuli. The question, remains how much of Jared will be a copy of Charles? Will he infect inherit the same traitorous posture? Will he acquire enough of Charles’ memory to figure out where he is hiding? Have the military created a monster just as bad as the one they seek? Jared himself cannot answer these questions as he slowly acquires bits and pieces of Charles’ memory. He seems to be just along for the ride. A pawn in a great interstellar game.

Things get interesting when Jared learns the fate of Charles’ daughter, Zoe, and the military’s role in her death. Was Charles’ betrayal an act of simple revenge? As Jared tries to sort it all out he must also contend with his own creators and how many others in the ranks treat him with suspicion or outright disdain, certain that his objectives are in line with the traitor he was cloned from.

But as I mentioned, I really got into the novel as the story came around to Zoe, albeit only a small part of the novel. Small, but pivotal in many ways. Seeing as the next installment in the series is entitled “Zoe’s Tale”, I’ll be sure to pick that one up soon. I just hope that I don’t have to go through another slow start next time.

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