Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Review: The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is kind of for both this and the previous novel [b:Old Man's War|51964|Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)|John Scalzi||50700], which I read together with this one and don't think I reviewed separately - they're going to end up somewhat muddled.

Good science fiction asks questions, and then speculates about the answers. One of the most interesting questions it ever asks is "What does it mean to be human?" I think Scalzi explores this question in the middle of an adventure tale without, crucially, bogging down in philosophy and losing the adventure. What if you take a human's personality and transplant it into a human-like body? Is it still human? What if you construct one of those superficially human-like bodies, based on human, engineered, and alien genetics, and allow it to develop a personality of its own? Is _that_ human? Now what if that body doesn't even look human, and lives in the depths of space? How much of humanity is biology, and how much social structure and upbringing? How much is brain and how much memory? Its the old nature-vs-nurture chestnut, and if you think it has a simple black-and-white answer... well Scalzi - or at least his book - doesn't agree with you.

I liked these because of the balance between probing these questions and a good ole-fashioned bug hunt. There are some minor weird inconsistencies in the technology (why is a standard marine's body a catatonic vegetable until a personality is implanted in it, but a special forces body - which seems to be essentially the same thing, but which never has a personality implanted - develops it's own personality?) but you can mostly just wave those away by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. Overall, I enjoyed these quite a lot.

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