overall this is a fun, fast-paced, and competently written novel. after finishing this book, I immediately wanted to read more – a good sign! and it is a thoughtful novel – I really liked how it carefully and quietly lays down small but important plot points that are clearly going to be even more important as this space opera continues. in general, I like Scalzi’s minor note approach to his world and it is well-matched with prose that is clear and straightforward yet sympathetic and often resona
the central protagonist was quite well-done. I really liked his childlike outlook. perfectly accomplished characterization.
but why so shy about actually describing aliens’ physical appearances? I wonder if it is even shyness and more about wanting that identification and empathy that was so successfully accomplished in that tricky-clever first chapter. still, it is more than a little frustrating.
I think the problem I ranted about below is, well, a genuine problem. and a big one. still, I will give Scalzi credit: that crushing scene is certainly a point being made, one that is highly important to characterization and the overall commentary on questioning authority. and in some ways it sets up an intriguing parallel narrative to the villain’s story. it is not just a random atrocity and that becomes crystal clear. but if you are going to use such an atrocity to prove a point, be a better writer first because it still came across as distinctly unnecessary and even a little cheap in its brutality.
so overall: I had my issues, but this is a good book. I liked it and will read more of this absorbing series.
YE OLDE PLACEHOLDER REVIEW/EXTENDED RANT
WHAT THE FUCK, SCALZI?
seriously, I can’t handle this shit. maybe I’m weak. but a scene halfway through the book where our sympathetic, likeable heroes kidnap and then brutally sterilize a terrified, crying baby, get a video connection to her horrified, crying mother, and then blackmail that mother into allowing the brutal execution of her child – which they then proceed to do. seriously?
Jared unsheathed his combat knife and approached the thing that Sarah Pauling had died for. She was strapped to a gurney and she wriggled and cried for her mother, and she would die alone and frightened, and far away from anyone that ever loved her.
for real? and that’s only a small excerpt of this scene. is it supposed to be less repulsive because they are aliens?
I think I might have been able to handle this in other circumstances, if it came in another sort of story – although honestly it hits me right in my perhaps one tender spot, the one that can’t deal with graphic depictions of child abuse. maybe if it came in a book about American misadventures in Vietnam. or The Black Company in space. or The Silver Devil Part 2. or a post-apocalyptic cannibal comic written by Garth Ennis. I could perhaps have handled it then. but this scene is in the middle of a light, fast-paced, exceedingly fun, Heinlein-esque adventure novel. it was like reading a cute story of two teenagers in love and then all of a sudden the boy and some of his friends find some girl and rape her to death. this repulsive scene took me entirely out of the novel and my only reactions are anger and disgust. am I ever supposed to be sympathetic to these characters again? that’s impossible. I want them all to die.
not that I don’t think there’s intentionality behind it all. the opening chapter – where the reader is placed within a very sympathetic perspective but does not realize until the end of the chapter that this perspective is that of a villainous, genocidal alien – is a perfectly executed sleight of hand that accomplishes its goals of creating empathy and the understanding that other things can have ‘consciousness’ just like humans. the author is no dummy and I appreciate his goals. but The Ghost Brigades is written and functions as a certain kind of light entertainment, albeit one with some thoughtful, carefully considered moral/ethical questions. that scene does not belong. if I go on a date with someone, I’m happy to be surprised but I don’t think being punched in the balls is an appropriate surprise. if someone did that to me on a date, someone’s going to get hit back. if Scalzi were in front of me, reading this book to me, someone would be hit back.
still, I admire the author and I should probably continue reading. but I need some time to forget my nausea and fury.