Sunday, December 27, 2009

John Scalzi: Master of the Long Hook

This is a brief commentary on my latest reading project: THE GHOST BRIGADES.

In my previous progressive review of THE OLD MAN’S WAR by John Scalzi, I made a statement that it took about 20 pages to really get hooked and I was very happy some brilliant editor somewhere gave his debut novel a chance, because it doesn’t have one of those edge-of-your-seat/must-turn-the-page-NOW hooks we’ve come to expect in published fiction, of late.

THE GHOST BRIGADES, which is the sequel to THE OLD MAN’S WAR follows suit, but the long hook is even more masterfully done. This time the reader is introduced to a character and his assistant who are in their working environment—a laboratory--with glimpses of their glib humor and their close personal relationship, and then the utter terror they feel as they realize their planet is being invaded. Scalzi takes you along on a tense journey as the principle character is escorted off in an attempt to escape—or at least hide from—the brutal invading forces. The military officer who’s sent to help him warns the scientist he would make a prime catch for the alien invaders battering at the door and he must do everything—everything—in his power to avoid letting him be captured. And then, when the scientist faces certain doom, Scalzi throws a curve that makes the reader (this one, anyone) say “Whoaaa!” I’ve seen this sort of twist before in Science Fiction, but never with the absolute finesse of the Long Hook Master of the Universe. Welcome to Scalzi’s world.

THE GHOST BRIGADES, like OLD MAN'S WAR, proved to be a smart, fast, gripping read with heavy doses of wry humor and a way of making the reader look at life and human nature in whole new ways. Even lacking any sort of romance (though it does carry a hint of a developing romance if you know how the story unfolded in the first novel) this is a brilliant, irony-laced look into a future that may someday be—with or without the alien threat.

I highly recommend both OLD MAN'S WAR and THE GHOST BRIGADES as required reading for SFR writers.  John Scalzi has a way of making impossible scientific, human, mlitary and moral dilemmas utterly fascinating and the intelligent, relatable characters of this entertaining saga will keep you flipping pages late into the night.  (Oh wait, that was me.)

I became especially focused on Jane Sagan, a character from OLD MAN'S WAR who, although she isn't the MC, plays a major role in THE GHOST BRIGADES.  I was privy to some of her thoughts and motivations from the first book, and my silent lament "Please don't let Jane Sagan die!" added even more layers of suspense to the read.  (I won't reveal her fate, but she takes the term "totally believable kick-ass, selfless female soldier" to a level I've never seen before.)

Now....on to book three, THE LAST COLONY.


  1. Loved both the Old Man's War (Which Laurie sent to me for my birthday) and The Ghost Brigades. I have two more to read and hope to get at them as soon as I tie up some edits for a soon to be released novel. I recommend Scalzi's work to anyone who likes sci fi. It does have a bit of romance, but it's his humor that I really love.

  2. So agree, Dawn. His humor is, laser sharp! He had one scene in OLD MAN'S WAR that would have been quite horrid without the character's ability to laugh at himself.


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