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Old Man's War
- The new recruits have BrainPals™ implanted in their brains to act as personal assistants and communicators. John is startled to learn that the computers both activate themselves and that they communicate by making the recruits hear voices. After a brief introduction, the BrainPal asks what John would like to call it, and John chooses "Asshole".
Asshole: Be aware that many recruits have selected this name for their BrainPal™. Would you like to choose a different name?
“Asshole,” I said.“Bitch,” Jesse said.“Dickwad,” said Thomas.“Fuckhead,” said Harry.“Satan,” said Maggie.“Sweetie,” said Susan. “Apparently, I’m the only one who likes my BrainPal.”
- In a later conversation, John learns that Jesse has named hers "Bitch". After initially thinking she was addressing him.
- The Old Farts share the names they've given their BrainPals:
- John's Drill Sergeant Nasty intends to find something about every single recruit that he hates enough to make their lives hell for. He starts with military veterans, because they always apply the bad habits they learned on Earth to combat on faraway planets. He particularly hates Marines, because they're the worst of all about this due to their egos. Next up are homosexuals. Not because he has any problem with homosexuality, but because he's had three seperate gay soldiers profess their love for him in the middle of a harrowing battle.
Master Sergeant Ruiz: Goddamn, that’s inappropriate. Some alien is trying to suck out my fucking brains, and my squadmate wants to talk about our relationship! As if I wasn't already busy.
- After Ruiz goes through an extensive list of people who piss him off, including clog dancers (which was even weirder because someone in the platoon happened to fit that category), he comes down to John, and is infuriated to learn that there is nothing about him which pisses him off. A short conversation reveals that John used to work in the advertising business, and his greatest achievement was coming up with a mascot for a tire company called Willie Wheelie. At which point Ruiz strips his uniform top off and reveals that he has a Willie Wheelie tattoo.
- During a raid on the Whaidian homeworld, John is accompanied by Private Bender a rather liberal-minded fellow who spent his previous life as a successful politician and diplomat, who keeps insisting that they should give peace a chance. When they happen across a massive gathering of Whaidians, Bender decides to run up to them and flex his diplomatic muscles. The narration dryly notes that he was struck by about 40,000 blowgun darts in the space of a second, which caused his body to literally liquify due to the sheer number of tiny puncture wounds he received. It was widely agreed by every soldier present to be the most interesting death they'd ever witnessed.
- Another mission has John's unit taking part in a large scale operation to retake a former human colony that had been claimed by the Covindu after the original human settlers died of a plague. The narration describes the drawn-out, intense fighting they had endured, and mentions that the Covindu are one of the rare examples of Humanoid Aliens, being very similar to humans in many ways... save for being less than an inch tall. The tide of battle has turned such that the Covindu have exhausted most of their fighting capability, and the human soldiers are rampaging through their cities stomping on them, with an explicit comparison to Kaiju. The realization of just how absurd the situation is causes John to have a nervous breakdown (in addition to a brief Heel Realization).
- John learns that he gets to be the lynch pin in the Ghost Brigade's plan to retake Coral, beginning with a little visit to the Consu home system to act as the human Ambassador to a race which invades its far less advanced neighbors for either sport or religion.
The Ghost Brigades
- The first chapter centers on a group of Raery researchers on a distant outpost which is suddenly attacked by alien invaders. When the head researcher is cornered by one of them, the narration gives the physical description of the bipedal mammalian alien, comparing and contrasting her physiology with the researcher's, until the researcher realizes what he is dealing with.
- While being interrogated, the researcher learns that the humans had found the carefully concealed underground complex by planting seismic sensors and proceeding to pepper the planet with meteors, allowing them to analyse the feedback on the sensors for anything out of place. Or, as he puts it, the humans figured out how to bang rocks together.
- General Mattson largely exists to be a Hate Sink, and he is largely aware of and unconcerned by this. Throughout the book he ends up being the focal point of quite a bit of light-hearted comic relief in an otherwise relatively serious narrative due to his unsympathetic nature. He gets screamed at by a newly-created Blank Slate Artificial Human, later gets punched in the face by the same person, can't get automatic sensors on the bathroom sink to work, and when he finally gets the sink to work, can't find any paper towels.
- A bit of Description Porn exposits on the amazing technological development of a semi-organic computer that could be integrated with the human brain, and "which in a moment of profoundly inappropriate branding was lightly dubbed the BrainPal".
- Several CDF officers discover that Charles Boutin had faked his own suicide before defecting, and that he created a backup copy of his own consciousness to facilitate this. So they produce a new Super Soldier Blank Slate from Boutin's DNA in hopes of transplanting his personality and interrogating him. A general who didn't like Boutin to begin with, and is very irate that he turned traitor, positions himself so that the first thing Boutin sees upon waking up is the General. And then is treated to Boutin's clone screaming in his face, due to the consciousness failing to take root, effectively leaving him as a terrified newborn.
- Later in the book, the consciousness does begin to take root, resulting in the clone (now known as Jared Dirac) slugging the general in the face on their next meeting.
- General Mattson demonstrates that in the distant future, humanity has interstellar travel, LEGO Genetics, sophisticated computerized brain implants, and the little automatic sensors on bathroom sinks still refuse to work reliably. And the latrine is out of paper towels.
- The Special Forces recruits quickly learn that Special Forces troops have a reputation for having No Sense of Humor, leading to an ongoing discussion and exploration of the topic, including all of them learning a wide variety of jokes, and widely agreeing that they don't get any of them. Except for Sarah Pauling, who laughs hysterically at every joke. Eventually they figure out that she doesn't actually get the jokes, but finds it hilarious that nobody else does either.
- The recruits discover swearing, and begin to cuss extensively before their instructor tells them to knock it off. The next day they discover Arabic swearing. Not long after, they discover sex, and the narration notes that they didn't have time to learn about much else for the next day or so.
- Sarah declares that she doesn't act like a child. And then sticks her tongue out at Jared.
- Cainen notes that he and Jared have both been at the business end of Jane Sagan's stun gun. He goes on to suggest they could start a club.
- The Running Gag of Colonel Robbins being invited to spend lunch with General Mattson and/or General Szilard in the General's Mess, and not being allowed to eat anything because he's not a General.
General Szilard: Christ, Robbins. Do you think I’m talking to you because I don’t have friends?
- During one of these meals, Szilard is explaining what he thinks is going on, and gets annoyed that Robbins limits his input to polite, subordinate, noncommittal statements.
Szilard: Colonel, I’m giving you a direct order. Eat the fucking cookie.
- The rule about only Generals getting to eat in the General's Mess is noted as being a tradition, rather than an actual rule. Szilard thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and decides to end one of the meetings by badgering Colonel Robbins to eat a cookie in order to break tradition.
- Wilson shows off the latest in faster-than-light travel technology: A seat attached to a hyperdrive. It turns out that certain limitations of the technology can be sidestepped, but only if the vehicle is as light as possible.
Wilson: Too much mass creates too much of a local warp on the time-space. Makes the Skip Drive do weird things.Jared: Like what?Wilson: Like explode.Jared: That’s not encouraging.Wilson: Well, explode is not quite the accurate word. The physics for what really goes on are much weirder, I assure you.Jared: You can stop now.
- Sagan learns that Szilard's BrainPal lets him read the thoughts of his subordinates. Including her recent thought about him being an officious prick.
Sagan: There was context for that.
- Szilard then notes that he usually leaves that feature disabled, since the vast majority of human thought centers on food, taking a crap, or having sex.
- Jared finally comes face to face with Boutin, who claims to have been Expecting Someone Taller.
Boutin: That was a joke.Jared: I know. It just wasn't funny.
- One of Sagan's plans involves being catapulted through the air to get out of a holding area she and some of her troops are imprisoned in. As she rapidly approaches the ground again, she takes a moment to reflect on what the landing will be like:
- Shortly after, she sees an enemy rapidly approaching on a hovercraft, and reaches around for anything to use as a weapon. She comes up with a clod of dirt, and ends up nailing the enemy in the face with it anyways, knocking him off.
- Harvey has been detailed to draw off as many of the enemy troops as possible. He is well-suited to the task.
Things got messy real fast after that. It was just fucking beautiful.
- Harvey finds himself in a crowded mess hall full of enemy soldiers, while at the controls of a heavily armed hovercraft.
- A bit of meta-humor, from the Afterword, where John Scalzi wants to first say something to everyone who thinks that writing a sequel in a universe you've already built is easy:
John Scalzi: Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha! Heh. No.