The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. In the first book, we are introduced to an Earth where people live to 75, and are then given the choice to join the Colonial Defence Force. If they accept, then they are given new genetically engineered bodies to become super-soldiers fighting Earth’s wars against the numerous alien races which are competing for colonisation space. After serving their term of service, they have the option of leaving the military and becoming a colonist on one of the many worlds they have been defending.

The Ghost Bridges of the sequel take things a step further, for these soldiers are bred specifically for war, born into genetically engineered bodies far more capable than the usual super-soldiers, and used as special forces troops for the toughest missions. They don’t have past lives, and aren’t given a choice about whether to serve. All of them are equipped with a BrainPal, a device that not only helps train them and provide them with information, but which allows them to communicate with each other directory.

The setting is hardly hard science fiction, though it’s not particularly soft either. It’s a fun, easy read in an interesting background setting. The story follows Jared Dirac, one of these super soldiers who has had the memories of a traitor to Earth implanted in him in order to try and find out why he betrayed Earth to the aliens, and what his plans were.

So whilst the first book was a simple universe – all aliens are bad and trying to kill humans – the Ghost Brigades begins to add a suggestion that things may be a bit more complex than that, with the traitor’s perspective that the Colonial Defence Force aren’t the good guys. How things turn out, I won’t say.

From a story perspective, the nature of the CDF, along with the genetic engineering and mind transplanting, makes for a good background and interesting story and could also make for an interesting RPG setting. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced as to the practicality of the idea though.

The reasoning given for the genetically engineered soldiers is that humans are relatively squishy compared to most of the alien races, so need an upgrade to be able to fight on equal terms. However, I would have thought that technological differences between the different races would be more important than how individuals compare physically. In the film Aliens, the Xenomorphs were significantly superior to an unarmed Colonial Marine, but training and technology meant the Xenomorphs needed overwhelming numbers to win. Here, I’d similarly expect the technology supporting the infantry and the type of weapons they carry (as well as training to use them effectively) would be at least as important as whether the opponent is bigger and faster.

But there’s very little mention of differences in the levels of technology, and most combat consists of small-arms engagements between groups of infantry rather than using drones or tanks, or taking advantage of air or orbital superiority.

This makes for a much more human focused story, which is probably the point, and it doesn’t stop the series (so far) being a pretty good read. So I’m happy to ignore the above points and just enjoy the story.

Samuel Penn