The premise was wonderfully intriguing and the author (Sharon Lynn Fisher) writes good descriptions and has an overall good use of language, with a few scenes that were genuinely harrowing. The writing technique is polished and smooth. This high level of potential made it almost insulting when the book became progressively lost in scientific bullshit and stock, annoying characters.
Fair disclosure – Ghost Planet is getting great reviews elsewhere on the net, so if you loved Ghost Planet don't be shy about defending its honor in the comments – you are not alone.
Ghost Planet is about a planet (Ardagh 1) that has recently been colonized by humans. Every human who comes to Ardagh 1 soon discovers that they have a ghost – a person who they knew, who had died, who must follow them everywhere. In order to cope with the resulting depression amongst the colonists, the colonists are instructed to follow Ghost Protocol, which involves refusing to interact with the ghosts in any way. Our protagonist, Elizabeth, shows up on the planet and meets with her new boss, Murphy. Much to her horror and surprise she quickly discovers that she is a ghost herself – she died when her transport crashed during landing – and she is now the ghost of Murphy, who will not acknowledge her.
I think Fisher's first mistake was in making the ghosts corporeal. They aren't actually ghosts; they are supposedly alien copies of dead people, but they are fully alive. They eat and sleep and walk around and have all the memories and the personality of the human they are a copy of. They think that they are that person and for all intents and purposes they really are. Yet none of the colonists say, “Yay, I have my loved one returned to me!” I'll grant that having your dead relative suddenly appear and start following you around must be startling but really the uniformity of the reactions just seems bizarre. Plus, if the ghosts are corporeal, why don't any of them turn on their ghostees, who make them sleep in closets and refuse to feed them? How is the planet getting the DNA with which to make physical copies of people, many of whom have never been to the planet?
Then Fisher decides to explain the ghost phenomenon in terms of a host/symbiont relationship, and the harder she tries the worse the book gets. There is a ton of horrible, horrible, fake scientific babble about how this can happen and it's just unbearably awful. Here is an example. The main characters have noticed that when ghosts and ghostees interact a lot, vegetation grows spontaneously. It is Earth vegetation, not found on Ardagh 1, and it grows without seeds, soil, water, or sunlight. On top of that, the vegetation is specific to the person it grows near (so the Irish guy gets clover and someone named Yasmine gets jasmine). Our heroes make this observation:
“If the growth is triggered by the symbiont/host bond, why wouldn't it manifest something personal about the pair? Symbionts are manifestations of something personal about their hosts. The planet itself is a manifestation of something personal about the colonists.”
If the above paragraph and quote did not cause you to fall to the floor, writhing in agony, and screaming, “SO! MANY! THINGS! WRONG! WITH! THIS!” then you might be OK with Ghost Planet.
Unfortunately, you still have to deal with the characters. Oh, God, the characters. Elizabeth is the ultimate Mary Sue. She is perfect in every way. She is always reasonable and plucky. She has every male character in the book in love with her and every character, period, saying how special she is, within minutes of first meeting them. She comes up with all the great ideas because she is so darn intuitive, and solves many problems that have bedeviled scientists for years within her first week or so on the planet. She even (SPOILER) has a perfect pregnancy, during which she experiences only slight hints of nausea. Elizabeth's only flaw is that she can't cook, which Murphy thinks is very cute.
And…then, there's Murphy. His character is wildly inconsistent and totally useless except that he is great at sex (which he wants to have all the time) and at cooking. He is the creator of Ghost Protocol and had built his career and personal life on enforcing it, and had a previous ghost that he quite happily ignored, but within a few days of Elizabeth becoming his ghost he is not only paying attention to her but also making out with her. There's very little development of their emotional relationship. He is in love with her because everyone falls in love with her, and she is in love with him because he's hot and can cook and thinks she's great.
The best stuff in the book, and it's very, very good stuff, is in the first couple of chapters when Elizabeth realizes that she is a ghost and struggles to figure out how to survive. Her pleading with the living for them not to tell her mother that she has died is truly devastating. Her horror upon realizing she is dead, her struggles with depression, and the grimness of her predicament are very well done. In a way, Fisher was too successful in her opening chapters – if they had been weaker, maybe I would have accepted more flaws from the rest of the book, but having seen just how powerful Fisher's writing can be I was frustrated beyond all measure to see it get worse and worse with every passing page. I read the whole book thinking it might turn around but it never recaptured the sense of urgency and emotional punch of those first chapters.
As I mentioned, Sharon Lynn Fisher is getting great reviews. Clearly she is doing great with her writing career whether I like Ghost Planet or not. In fact, I may be the only person on the Internet who disliked the book. That being said, Ghost Planet was a very imaginative, very intriguing, very disappointing mess. I am giving this book a D+ because despite some strong writing talent, this story contained neither thoughtful science fiction nor emotionally engaging romance.