I read Old Man’s War a while ago and really, really liked it. Modern hardish SF with cool gadgets, engaging characters, that brushes against Space Opera just enough to pick up the cool bits and reads just enough like Heinlein (in voice and pacing) to feel cozy. I devoured it.
The Ghost Brigades wasn’t as good. It did a lot of work in terms of world building. As expected, you know a lot more about the Special Forces than you gleaned from Old Man’s War, and he does some really cool stuff with them. Exploring the brainpals in more depth, how they work, their implications for the brain they live in etc., was all stuff I’d hoped he’d play with. The problem was that he played with it in really predictable ways. We already knew the Special Forces were networked to each other more thoroughly than the regular CDF, but we get a lot of time spent exploring this without going anywhere particularly new or interesting. The problem is that while the rapid learning and information access and high integrated is fairly clever to include for people, I’ve read almost the same sequence for sentient computers several times. The Special Forces trainees read like so many self-aware robots and the fact that they’re people doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Which brings us to the second problem with the Ghost Brigades – Jared Dirac is boring. He’s very Valentine Michael Smith fresh from Mars, except that instead of being surrounded by rich, colorful characters he’s encountering one, “I am clearly here for a purpose and oh, here it is,” character after another. This starts with, Lt. “Let’s explore humor and humanity,” Cloud and dives immediately into, Sara “Let’s be a romantic interest so I can die and advance the plot,” Paulson. We have our convenient alien prisoner of war to give us a philosophical, “I’m deeply religious and value souls and you humans are all messing with humanity,” perspective. Stock-character syndrome was so rampant that he flattened out Jane Sagan, which was really sad to see since I found her really interesting in Old Man’s War.
The dialog at the end starts to get awkward and less polished, and exposition about council of species and how humans are ignoring it was clumsy, made worse by the “Oh wait, there’s a counter-movement and we’re playing the middle, shazzam shades of gray bitches!” bit at the end. And, seriously now, they muster Jane out and swear her to secrecy? You telling me they can’t just wipe those bits via brain pal? The idea that a Special Forces soldier could be transferred to a body without a brainpal is a little sketchy to me. Doing it without wiping super-secret classified info pushes that too far.
I’ll probably pick up and read The Last Colony, but only because it’s starring John and Jane and I’m hoping for some sort of exploration of life after being downgraded from superman so I’m hoping we’ll move on from mediocrity back to the level of tight, witty awesome I expect from Scalzi after Android’s Dream, Old Man’s War, and Agent to the Stars.