The Ghost Brigades (part the first), John Scalzi

I feel like this season should officially be dubbed, “The Spring of Sequels.” I’ve clandestinely been gorging myself on the Flavia De Luce series, which I promised I wouldn’t review again, and I won’t unless one of them blows me out of the water, but they really are delightful fun and can be blamed for my inability to get reading/deadlines/housekeeping done in a timely manner. I try to blame all of that on the fact that I still don’t have a working computer, but in all honesty, the lack of the computer is just a perfect opportunity to read those books instead.

The fact that I even found time to get half-way through The Ghost Brigades is a bit of a miracle actually, not because I’m not enjoying it, but because any reader worth her salt will admit to having a hard time transitioning emotionally between characters. The Ghost Brigades is the quasi sequel (same world, different characters) to Old Man’s War, and if I’d been clever, I would have jumped on it immediately after finishing the first. The problem was, I was gearing up for a six week trip and I didn’t have the brain power for it. My focus was on planning and executing work and travel plans, and it didn’t leave much time for anything else.

Now, though, I’m back, and even though the calendar claims it’s early May, the weather says late July, and it’s too hot to concentrate for more than thirty minutes or so at a time. Don’t get me wrong – I can get some quality reading done in thirty minutes, and I know quite a few people who would go to great lengths for thirty uninterrupted minutes with a good book – but I’m spoiled. I want a rainy, cool afternoon so that I’m not tempted by (in this order): going to get frozen yogurt, booking flights to anywhere my friends live, catching up on television I missed in March and April, and weeding the garden. Incidentally, I like weeding because it doesn’t require me to have a green thumb, so it’s really not an insult to reading to say that I would rather be outside in the sunshine, getting a little satisfaction from clearing our tiny plot of land than inside, using my brain.

The Ghost Brigades is well-suited to this little problem. It’s about soldiers who have been created from human DNA to be far greater (stronger, smarter, telepathically linked to each other) than ordinary humans. Because they’ve been created as “adults” in a lab rather than being born in the more traditional sense, however, some aspects of their personalities – the bickering, the odd sense of humor (or complete lack of one), the less than perfect social skills – resemble those of children. These enhanced men and women have a particular affinity for the child soldiers written about in Ender’s Game because, essentially, that’s what they are.

So what does this have to do with me and my inability to sit still? Are any of you teachers? Parents? Do the rest of you remember what it was like to be in school in May? No matter how much you like learning, or being with your friends, or what your teacher might have to say, when May rolls around, all bets are off. Every hour feels like ten thousand. Every page read goes too slowly, and the information drain directly out of eyes, ears, and mouth without even a stopover at the brain. Opening the windows to allow fresh air to circulate should be qualified as a form of torture for any person who can’t immediately go out to enjoy the day, no matter age. The spring just holds this magic; to me, it feels like the time of year when I want to go out into the world and make stories happen, rather than just reading about adventures, regardless of how exciting or well-written, on the page.

My compromise usually involves taking my book or computer outside in a valiant effort to reconnect to what has to get done. What usually happens then is that I lay down on a bench or in the grass, spend three or four solid minutes concentrating, then roll over and stare at the sky. I watch the clouds, and I feed bread to the baby ducks and geese. I listen to the squeaking bikes cycling past, and I luxuriate in a feeling of relaxation we attribute to childhood, but which rarely exists at any age unless we seek it out. Instead of reading or writing, I think of what a shame it is that to be created with a purpose – as Scalzi’s “ghost brigade” is, for example – means no time to learn what doing nothing well really feels like.

It’s a shame. I believe in doing nothing well. When I give my brain a little nothing to work with, the things it comes up with when I ask for something…well, they’re quite marvelous. Go ahead. Give it a try. I promise all those important, have-to-get-done somethings will be waiting when you return. And let’s be honest, I’ll feel a lot less guilty if I’m not the only one playing hooky today.

For more about John Scalzi, hit up his blog Whatever.

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