I think that the world created by John Scalzi in this book has a lot of potential. I did not realize when I picked it up that it was actually the second one that he’d created in this universe (the first being “Old Man’s War”).
But I also felt that he didn’t take advantage of the rich potential offered by the universe he’d created. There was really only one line through the novel and everybody and everything was dedicated to following that single thread to its conclusion. The protagonist (Jared Dirac) has a genetically-modified body that is detailed early on in the story but then is virtually ignored for the rest of the novel. Similarly, there are many characters introduced (his immediate commander, the various top brass folks) who hint at being very interesting and whose past and possible intrigues are not at all pursued. Maybe there is an intention to do so in later novels or these are elaborated upon in the earlier book but then there is no attempt to recap any of this in “The Ghost Brigades”.
Further, the relationship dynamics (conflict between Jared and team mates, interactions between the “normal” people and the “Special Forces”) are very simple with easy and final resolutions. It makes for a very comfortable read but a less richly textured story.
Finally, the story wrapped up very conveniently and neatly. Again, I felt, not taking advantage of the universe that has been conceived and is waiting for its potential to be seized upon. I tend to be a “happily ever after” kind of guy (too much Hollywood-style entertainment I suppose), but I realize that there are very few nice, neat certainties in the world, and certainly few situations where everybody’s goals all line up so that everybody will be happy at the same time or for the same reason.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book and the story immensely. I find Mr. Scalzi’s presentation engaging and I loved his exploration into consciousness and trying to grapple with the realities, both technical and moral, presented by being able to transplant consciousness from one body to another and some of the implications of literally creating soldiers (slaves) and convincing them that servitude is a noble life goal. I will definitely be picking up his other offerings. But I will do so expecting a quick, easy read rather than an in-depth, complex narrative.