Top positive review
104 people found this helpful
Free to Live
on March 6, 2006
This book is billed as a sequel to Old Man's War, but it really isn't. While set in the same universe, it has only marginal ties to the earlier book, in the person of Jane Sagan, John Perry's love interest in that book. Instead, this book is a much closer look at the Special Forces, soldiers created from the genetic material of several people, including some now dead (hence the `Ghost' appellation). These people are force grown, then decanted into the world with their Brain Pal as their immediate mentor, giving them the capabilities and knowledge of adults when only hours old. The same Brain Pal technology allows them to integrate with their squad mates: a form of aided telepathy that allows not only for quick training but gives these individuals a sense of community and family they would otherwise not have.
The story revolves around the search for a traitorous scientist, Charles Boutin, who helped developed the Brain Pal technology and the ability to store and relocate a person's consciousness (or, depending on your point of view, their soul). Jared Dirac is a newly created clone (with enhancements) of this person, and an attempt is made to load Dirac's brain with a copy Boutin's consciousness in an effort to find out why Boutin became a traitor and where he might have gone. This attempt apparently doesn't work, and Dirac is placed with a Special Forces squad led by Jane. Dirac's development as a person is the main focus of the work from this point on.
The book starts well, with an action-oriented opening chapter that grabs, but then the next fifty pages drag somewhat, as Scalzi sets up the scenario for the rest of the book and explains the technology and military situation. This section is too long, and I felt that much of this material should have been better integrated with the prime story. When Dirac joins his squad, things pick up again; his 'training' and the first couple of military actions he is part of are probably the best part of this book. The last quarter of the book falls off a little again, as the thematic focus of the book comes to the fore - that of what makes an individual 'free' - free to make his own choices, free to decide for himself what is correct and moral, free to live his own life without being subject to the imperatives of not only others, but his genetic heritage. Only a little of this theme is directly explicated, but it dominates the action of the final portion of this book.
The political/military situation is nicely envisaged, with three alien races allied against humanity, and each of these races are well defined in their differences from humanity. The human's military strategy to break up this alliance is well thought out, and plays upon each race's unique characteristics. It also brings up a secondary thematic point of this book, about what actions are 'moral' and justified in war, when the very survival of the species is at stake, and just what the basis is for deciding whether humanity should survive.
Not as strong as Old Man's War, with too much poorly integrated 'background' material, but still a good read, with lots of food for thought nestled in its pages.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)