The Light Brigade
by Kameron Hurley
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 1, 2020
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"They said the war would turn us into light."
Kameron Hurley's The Light Brigade was a Locus Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel, and is still in the running for Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke awards. It's a military adventure story mixed with time travel, or at least that's one interpretation. It is also a sociological look at a future Earth controlled by mega-corporations, as well as a psychological profile of a soldier. It's written in first-person, so there is a danger of the unreliable narrator. Mars had been colonized years before the main action, but supposedly many of their systems had failed, the colonists breaking into two factions. One group requested to be allowed to return to Earth, where they proposed to settle and rehabilitate lands in northern Canada that had been destroyed during the Seed Wars, using techniques they had developed terraforming Mars. They were successful in that endeavor, but later Earth corps suspected them of an ulterior motive, the infiltration of Earth as a prelude to war between the planets.
Gina Dietz is a poor resident (not citizen) of rural Brasil, whose mother had died, her father 'disappeared' by the government, and others in her family lost during the Blink, an attack on São Paulo attributed to the Martians. She volunteers for the military, both for revenge, and as a path to citizenship. She goes through rigorous basic training, which doesn't adequately prepare her for the missions ahead. The war consists of actions against Martian settlements on Earth, as well as on the red planet. Instead of planes, helicopters, or boats to different areas on Earth, or space ships to Mars, her platoon is moved in a process similar to the Star Trek transporter. Their bodies are discorporated into light particles, then beamed to the target, where they will be reconstituted into their corporeal bodies, ready to fight. That is the intention at least, if they're lucky. Sometimes the bodies don't completely come back together, they're missing parts, or limbs or organs are rearranged, or they emerge inside a geological formation, or in a wall of a building. Something else is happening to Dietz, and she's not sure if it's unique to her, or whether it's in her imagination. She seems to be experiencing reconstitution out of sequence, jumping to future missions, then back to earlier ones she has no memory of. The members of her squad, and her superiors, continually change. She's not aware of what happened to some of her friends, but quickly learns to stop asking about them. Is she going crazy, or is she getting glimpses of the end of the war, possibly the end of everything?
I'm not that familiar with a lot of military SF, but I have read a few of the classics: Starship Troopers; The Forever War; The War Against the Chtorr; Old Man's War. This is the equal of any of those. The pace is relentless, the stakes high and mounting higher with every mission, even when it may be one already past and just being revisited. Are the anomalous events only happening to Gina, or do others experience them too? In either case, are they accidental or intentional, part of the corporate war policy? Gina begins to question whether or not Mars is the true enemy, or whether it may be her own corporate bosses, or possibly rival corps. I don't think it's a spoiler to say it may be a combination of those factors, or maybe the physical transformations she's gone through have made it impossible for her to know the truth. Even if I knew for sure I wouldn't reveal that information. It's a wild ride that will keep you guessing throughout, but you should take the ride even if you're unsure of the destination. At one point Gina decides that reality is what she makes of it, and the reader needs to do the same. I'm not voting for the Hugos this year, but if I was I would have a difficult decision for my #1 pick for Best Novel. This would place no lower than #2 on my ballot. Highly recommended.
"Don't just fight the darkness. Bring the light."
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