Friday, February 23, 2007

Hey John, I Finished the Ghost Brigades

Hey John, I finished The Ghost Brigades, and I really loved it. I mean really. Loved it. A Lot. What did I like about it, you ask? Well:

1. The deeper look at the underpinnings of your universe. I liked Old Man's War very much, but it left me with a lot of questions about how that world operated (as any first book in a series should). Maybe I'm only happy when it rains, but I grokked this look at the darker underpinnings of the universe of the Colonial Defense Force, through the eyes of one of its descriminated against, non-"realborn" soldiers. There's some good old PKD paranoia running through your Heinlein now, and that makes me happy.

2. I really dig what you do with questions of personal identity, both in the questions that Jared faces (your character and not the Subway guy) and also who Jared is. Since you wrote the book, I don't need to give you a spoiler warning, but I was into the fact that identity wasn't an either/or question with the way Jared was a composit of two consciousnesses, one evolving out of the other. I don't think I bear much resemblance to the shy, intolerant, born again Christian good ol' boy I started life out as four decades ago, despite having inhereted his body, so questions of evolving consciousness and what constitutes the self fascinate me. That you layered discussions of consciousness throughout, from the "normal" way a regular Ghost Brigade soldier was reared to the exceptions in Jared's case was just great.

3. Your combat skills have improved since Old Man's War. Have you been in many fights since then? Maybe I'm misremembering - OMW was like a bizillion manuscripts ago for me - but I thought the action sequences here much more compelling and a little more believable. Again, I LOVE OMW. This is NOT a criticism. The trajectory a writer wants is for each book to be better. Stagnation or moving in the other direction = bad. But I felt the combat was more intense. I don't know, maybe it's just me. Certainly, I've been in more fights since OMW.

4. For a book that is supposed to be part of the New Comprehensible, you don't skimp on ideas. Both these books are really "readable" and everyone is talking about how you write "entry level" SF, but the fact that they are entry-level on one level by no means means that a jaded editor who reads a manuscript or more a week like me can't find enough stimulating concepts and sense-a-wunder to feel like a kid again. I saw your post on how entry-level SF is actually harder to write than writing for the initiated, and I agree. But as far as I'm concerned, the golden age of science fiction is anytime I'm lost in one of your books.

5. Finally, and not least in importance, I could read it without taking a week away from the reading I am paid to do. It's very hard for me to justify reading outside my own submission pile. I'm a slow reader - not a good thing for an editor to be but I've found I share that trait with a fair number of us - and so it's very, very, VERY hard for me to read non-Pyr and Pyr-potential books. But I allow myself to read for pleasure on airplanes - so 130 pages on the flight to Boskone and 120 pages on the flight back. (We were stuck on the runway for 30 minutes on the way too, hence the extra pages. I was pretty tired at that time from getting up at 4:30am or I'd have done better than 10 pages in 30 minutes though.) Anyway, that's not the whole book, but close enough I could justify taking an hour or two to finish when I was home before returning to my prodigious submissions pile. I love that The Ghost Brigades did what it needed to do and was done. I, for one, get tired of 700 page tomes. Likewise, I dug that this took place in the world of OMW rather than being part two of a story that picked up right where the other ended. Gives me a nice sense of accomplishment and makes me feel okay about having to wait for the next airplane trip to read you again.

This isn't really a point but I'm psyched to have completed one of the books on my list of the Top Ten Books I'd Be Reading Now If I Weren't Reading Other Books. So now that I've read this, I can go ahead and pick up The Android's Dream. Hopefully, I'll be able to read that before The Last Colony comes out. But if it takes me until a year after the book is out, as it did this time, well, then you can expect another belated blog post sometime in 2008. Because however long it takes me, I am so there.


Robert said...

I'm back on the Keith Laumer hobbyhorse...want to read The Android's Dream, too. Have heard it referenced as a variation on the theme(s) that Laumer used in his Retief series.


pnh said...

Lou, email me your ship-to address and I'll be glad to send you an ARC of THE LAST COLONY.

Lou Anders said...

Robert, I really need to fill in that whole in my own SFnal education.
Patrick, that is most kind of you.

Robert said...


Your problem is no doubt the same as mine (and even more so, as I'm not an editor) -- so much to read, so little time. Think the Baen volume containing all Retief short stories is still in-print...or easily found used.

And I need to retract some of my last week's slamming of Baen Books cover art. On checking their website...there are a lot more "good" covers than I recalled. And big kudos to them for publishing in April Barry Malzberg's "Breakfast in the Ruins" -- an expaned version of his semi-autobiographical "Engines of the Night."


Lou Anders said...

a) I'd probably pick up their IMPERIUM omnibus before anything else.
b) glad you are going easy on them for their covers - I've seen some nice ones in the past and they seem to be evolving lately too.
c) I didn't know that about the Malzberg - good on them!

Robert said...

Lou --

Yeah -- go first for IMPERIUM. In fact...been so long since I originally read those novels, think I'll pick up a copy, too.

And besides kudos for Malzberg, additional kudos for publishing Cordwainer Smith's brilliant work in new paperback editions.


Lou Anders said...

You keep sending me scurrying to Amazon to see. THough in this case, I have the two NESFA hardcovers.

Meanwhile, Alan Dean Foster just very kindly sent me a copy of the Easton Press edition of Sagrmanda (which we licensed to them). Gorgeous! They took the graphic of Ganesh we used on the interior chapters and put it on the outside in gold.

Robert said...

I've got those two NESFA volumes, too. Good thing, because I'd long ago lost my old Pyramid and Ace editions of his work.

Sounds like a nice limited edition of Foster's novel. Glad to hear Easton's published it. Not to mention featuring Ganesh, one of my favorite Hindu deities. We need more good-natured gods out there (up there?).

Would love to see Foster write a nonfiction book about his global journeyings. Lucius Shepard has one coming out soon about his experiences in Honduras. That should be a good one.


Liviu said...

I agree with the review, I found The Ghost Brigades a very good book, darker, more serious and better than OMW, and I am looking forward to the Last Colony. Unfortunately The Android's Dream is not my cup of tea so to speak, I skimmed it only from the library.
On another note next week I should get both Fast Forward and the Solaris anthology, and I am very excited about them.


Lou Anders said...

Robert - as near as I can tell Alan never stops travelling, so it would have to be a multi-volume set, but fascinting.

Liviu - Glad you agree. Mind you, I LOVED OMW too or I wouldn't have come back for the Ghost Brigades. Meanwhile, you will, of course, have to let me know what you think about both anthologies.

Carl V. said...

Great review to a fantastic book. Having read it several months ago it was fun to see your more recent thoughts. Brought up fond remembrances of the story and reminds me of how much I am anxiously awaiting The Last Colony!

Lou Anders said...

Thanks Carl. I'm going to try to get to the Last Colony before this time next year! I'm actually looking forward to reading it before I have a thousand manuscripts between it and Ghost Brigades.

JScalzi said...

Aw, thanks, Lou. Really glad you enjoyed it.