No. 18: The Ghost Brigades
In the follow-up to Old Man’s War we find something that is both more and less than a sequel. It is it’s own story, no longer following the travails of John Perry, but many secondary characters and the established universe are present. It’s said to be comprehensible as a standalone novel, but I can’t imagine why you’d want to read it without reading its predecessor. For one, it is impossible even to explain the premise of The Ghost Brigades without offering up spoilers to Old Man’s War (I won’t try).
Scalzi continues to use this universe to address issues of youth, death, purpose, identity, and what it means to be human. There are some key differences, though. OMW had a strong element engaging issues of integrating what Nick Carr would term “intellectual technologies” into our established patterns, but Ghost focuses on what it’s like to be born and raised with such technologies already integrated. These two approaches to examining some of the effects of these technologies has dovetailed nicely into the discussions found in The Shallows, and Endangered Minds.
Old Man’s War, in dealing with an elderly population which suddenly regains its youth (shortly before dying violent deaths lightyears from home), looks at what an aging body does to the mind. The Ghost Brigades is dealing with something like child soldiers, and looks at the effects of having to achieve instant maturity in a hostile environment.
The concept of choice plays a prominent role in this story also. Characters make many important choices in any story, but few writers focus on the process, purpose, or value of choice the way Scalzi does. Each character has to make a choice, and, though in most cases the conclusions are foregone, it is the act of choosing that gets the attention. The freedom to act according to one’s own will is given an extremely high value, particularly in the context of the military, where choice is, shall we say, “limited.”
Above all of these issues, though, the meaning of collective and individual humanity is at the forefront again. “How am I human?” and “How human am I?” are the two most prominent questions, and no strong answer is given.
The writing suffered from the same drawback as Old Man’s War: a lot of telling, possibly not enough showing. Again, the story was engaging and fun, the writing was great, and it was a fast, enjoyable read.