If you’ve read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, then this is the follow-up novel you expected…except it’s not. John Perry, the hero of the first novel, is barely mentioned; indeed, he is nothing but an offhand remark in one or two places. It’s like an author trying to link up books with a throwaway line or character, say some ghost child named Frank Vaughn or something.
So don’t expect the continuing saga of a favored character you remember from the first novel, but do expect the continuing saga of the world built during that first novel. This is a galaxy of odd alien races all bent on conquering- and, in some cases, eating- other alien races, including us humans. Apparently, we taste like chicken. So we chickens are always coming up with some innovative tech or method to keep us off the dinner plate, like warp drives and space pods and more-or-less cloned soldiers (’cause they’re not really clones but users of dead bodies), complete with an installed BrainPal allowing them to bypass the decades of growing up and maturing and skill development that a naturally born human has to go through before they are combat ready.
Think of it as distance learning on dilithium crystals.
I thought the Old Man’s War concept was great: take the brains and experience of old people and meld it with superstrong rebuilt bodies to create the Colonial Defense Force. Imagine, a bunch of crotchety old farts running around the galaxy with advanced weaponry and the reflexes and strength of their teenage years and, well, we’d simply rule. I don’t know what happened to that concept in this follow-on novel but it is shrifted. I guess the available supply of crotchety old farts would rather sit around in their wheelchairs watching reruns of Space 1999 or something. The clone brigades now take on the heavy lifting. Bit disappointing. I was looking forward to being 18 years old again with a plasma rifle in the 40 watt range and 60 years of accumulated attitude.
As yarns go, this is a pretty good one. Jared Dirac, a newly decanted BrainPal soldier, is fitted with an extra conscience, that of traitor Charles Boutin, in an effort to find out (a) what exactly did Boutin give to our alien enemies and (b) why did he do that? This make Dirac’s already stressful birth even more stressful by adding the memories and motivations of a traitor and actually it makes this story far more interesting than a Clone Wars rehash. For one thing, you get to see a comparison between a fully developed conscience and a newly emerged one…even if the fully developed one is about as superficial as one can get. When you find out Boutin’s reason for betraying the entire human race to a coalition of cockroaches and BEMs your first reaction will probably be, “Really? Dude, get a grip.”
Overall, this is a space shoot-em-up with fun weapons and tactics that miraculously appear in the supply chain at just the right moment because that always happens…okay, yes, suspend much belief, but if you know that going in, you’ll probably enjoy this.
With or without a Brainpal.