Charles Boutin’s defection to the other side is a serious blow to the Colonial Defense Forces. As a top military scientist, he had access to many of their secrets. As a genius, he’s capable of equipping the enemy with more sophisticated technology than humans, even the genetically modified humans in the forces, can handle. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your perspective) Boutin managed to preserve his consciousness on a computer, something that had never before been accomplished. And so Jared Dirac is created from Charles Boutin’s DNA, a clone which they hope will provide them with answers. When Jared wakes up, he is a newborn like every other newborn Ghost Brigades soldier, but as his experiences in war add up, he finds Boutin’s emotions, memories, and personality emerging, making him both dangerous and essential in the war effort.
Does anyone remember how I said I didn’t like science fiction? John Scalzi has blown holes in that theory. I read this in three hours on a train and the time simply flew by. I often comment on characters in my reviews because I think great, well-developed characters are more or less essential to my enjoyment of a book. I don’t like exclusively plot-driven works. Thus, this book, in which discoveries that relate to the plot are made only when the main character changes enough to trigger his memories, worked perfectly for me. Jared was fantastic. I loved reading about his development from essentially nothing, into this relatively submissive guy called Jared, and then into someone much closer to Charles Boutin. There is plenty of plot here, but there are also great characters and great human emotions that, to me, made this book. There is also a tie-in character from Old Man’s War which very quickly enabled me to build on that book with this one.
There is something else I like about this series that others may not. Scalzi is a little bit merciless with the killing of characters. I may be weird but I love this. I like the unpredictability of it, especially in fantasy or, apparently, science fiction. It makes the world real for me. I can grieve over characters I’ve become attached to but the unpredictability often makes the book that much more exciting for me and elicits more reaction from me. There are no guarantees here. I read enough fiction where endings are assured and I like those in their place, but sometimes I just want something I’m not expecting. Scalzi delivers just that.
Even more amazing for me and science fiction, I like the world he’s created. It’s strong and well-developed. I know which aliens are which and what they’re good at. I understand the technological advancements that have been made. For the most part, we’re acquainted with all these details in Old Man’s War, but with the focus on the Special Forces/Ghost Brigades in this novel, we become more familiar with the oddities of the new developments in body technology. This isn’t at all overwhelming, though. I was astonished by this personally, but I was actually interested in how the science was going. I want to know where it’s going next!