I loved Old Man’s War, and for some reason I waited a year and a half to read the sequel, which I actually loved even more. In a way it was good to wait. The main character and cast are largely ignored in this next book, and it’s even written in a different narrative perspective, third person rather than first person. That would have made for a jarring transition if I had read them back to back, I think.
The first book starts with John Perry leaving earth as a seventy-five-year-old man and joining the Colonial Defense Forces. Humans are at war with multiple alien races, pretty much every alien race it turns out, and they fight this war by transferring the minds of the elderly to genetically engineered bodies. In this sequel, Jared Dirac is born into the Special Forces, nicknamed the Ghost Brigades. This secretive group has an interesting twist in that they don’t use the minds of the elderly but instead use the minds of the dead. They awake as adults in their bodies with no knowledge on their old life. We get to see the training process from a completely different perspective this way.
I love origin stories, and I’ve gotten two in this series so far!
Jared Dirac, being born directly into the Ghost Brigades, doesn’t have a past life. He isn’t coming into the war with seventy-five years of experience behind him. The first ten years of his life, at least, will be as a soldier. This is ideal for special forces units because they’re tasked with the most unsavoury of missions, something Scalzi really does not hold back on in this, and having a life of experience and emotions would likely cause problems in that. Once awake in his engineered body, his BrainPal kicks in, a neural implant that allows the owner to send and receive data. If he needs to know something, it will download and unpack the related facts into his brain. It also allows him to integrate with the minds of his entire unit. This enables him to adapt and grow much quicker than a regular solider.
John Scalzi does such a great job with showing how Jared is slowly learning and understanding everything around him. The mix of a solder’s professionalism and a child’s wonder was perfect. Jared ‘s also a special case, as the consciousness they used to create him is from a living traitor rather than a dead human from Earth, so he’s also gradually struggling with the mix of his own personality and what he’s learning about his origins. This could have easily gone wrong with bad pacing, but Scalzi nailed it.
This is an action-packed adventure, but it also tackles a lot of really interesting issues, the most prominent of which being the question of what it means to be a human. I loved this and really look forward to reading the third novel. John Scalzi has definitely become one of my favourite writers lately.