John Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades does not suck. This sounds like an awfully weak sort of praise, but considering what I thought of his first book, it’s a pretty dramatic step up.

Like Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades is compellingly readable. I whipped through it in less than a day. Unlike Old Man’s War, it’s actually pretty genuinely interesting. The awkward infodump lectures are gone, replaced with far less obtrusive incluing; the smugly awesome protagonists are replaced by characters who aren’t striving for the title of Awesomest Person in the Entire Universe; and the hand of the author-god is much less obtrusively on the scales here. Scalzi appears to have gotten his Mary Sue out of his system entirely.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect book, mind. Some of the conversations still rang a bit artificial; the characters are still more alike (and Scalzi-like) than they’d ideally be; and a few of the plot elements are preposterous. (I don’t care if there’s no direct evidence of attack — if a bunch of enemy outposts happen to get wiped out in the same “accidental” way, they’re going to damn well know they’re being attacked.)

But those are flaws that an adventure story can live with, and they don’t keep this from being a genuinely enjoyable book. And, as a nice plus, the book starts to reveal that things are a bit more complex than we had previously thought. There’s a depth to the story and the world-building here that were just missing in Old Man’s War. I find myself, a bit to my surprise, looking forward to the next entry in the series.


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