Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Ghost Brigades (by John Scalzi)

I loved Old Man’s War, so I was excited to read the sequel, The Ghost Brigades. Incidentally, I’ll always associate these books with the e-mail fight I had with a well-known old-school Scalzi-detractor, with whom I was arguing about John Scalzi’s writing talent. I forget how it started; I believe I publicly professed enjoyment for John’s first novel and then this guy set out to tell me I was wrong by giving me a long critique of Scalzi’s writing in detail, on his usual soapbox of knowing more about writing than anyone else on the internet. I had been beta reading Old Man’s War and assured him that it was, in fact, a good book. “I tell you one thing, there’s no way he’ll ever get a novel published,” he e-mailed me, and later on the very same day, John announced his publishing contract with Tor. Oh, it is so rare that one can win a stupid Internet argument with one perfectly timed URL. It was beautiful.

All of which is to say I had faith in John Scalzi’s writing talents from the days of Agent to the Stars, and I feel like I backed the right horse whenever I read one of his books. Anyway, on to the review.

I didn’t like Ghost Brigades as much as Old Man’s War, but I did enjoy it very much. It doesn’t have the benefit of being the introduction to this extremely interesting world, nor does it have the same exquisite sense of pacing. And we don’t get to see too many (any?) new alien species, which was one of my favorite parts of OMW. I think the ending is the strongest part of the book, if a little pat in certain aspects of it. The plot twists are fabulous, and the final third of the book is both very suspenseful and very moving. I won’t say more than that about the ending. I do especially love the character of Jared Dirac, and the possibilities that unfold at the end of the novel, pointing towards the third chapter in an ongoing saga.

My tiny quibbles are threefold. One, I don’t feel like I really get to know Jane Sagan beyond that she is obviously extremely badass and competent. But I want her to be a little more three-dimensional. Two, the typographical convention of having a comma followed by two colons really bothers me for some reason. Normally one can get used to something like that but it bugged me all the way through the book. As a copy editor, my decision would be that the two colons obviate the need for the comma, and are redundant. And the third thing is that the multiple references to fucking seem a little gratuitous. Which reaction surprised me because I thought the sex in Old Man’s War was appropriate and funny, and I always laugh at the prudery of one-star Amazon reviews who hate any book with the word fuck in it anywhere. But somehow it seemed a little much for me, like it was trying too hard to be “sexy” or forthright or something.

Anyway, I highly suggest you pick up Old Man’s War if you haven’t yet read it, and if you like it as much as I did, you will no doubt want to find out what happens next in The Ghost Brigades.

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