March 23, 2019

Review: The Light Brigade

The Light Brigade The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've long been a fan of Kameron Hurley, and I loved her last book, The Stars Are Legion. This book is very different: bloody, gory, twisty, chewy, and mindfuck-y as all get out. It's something only Kameron Hurley could write, and she pulls it off with aplomb.

It's also bleak and depressing, except for the ending. This is a post climate change world, with no governments or countries, just warring corporations. Society is based on the corporation's bottom line, which means citizenship has to be earned, along with basic human rights like food, shelter and medical care. (Among other things, this is an interrogation and rebuke of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, as Hurley demonstrates the horrors to which that book's philosophy would inevitably lead.) Dietz (no first name or gender until well along in the book) is a "grunt" that has signed up for military service in the Corporation Corps, after the defining event in her world's history known as the Blink. "The Blink" is the destruction of her hometown, Sao Paulo, by the Mars colonists (or that's what the people are told, anyway), using the matter transport technology that powers so much of this story. (Hurley handwaves this a bit, not providing any real explanation for it, but the impression I get is that it's as ubiquitous in this future as Wi-Fi: always hovering in the background, waiting for someone to be jacked in.) She wants to be on the side of the "good guys" fighting for those she lost in Sao Paulo, including her brother and lover.

But once she finishes basic training (which is of itself a horrorshow, as Hurley aptly shows how her world's military turns people into robotic killers who follow orders) and begins going on her "drops," broken down into energy, riding a wave of light to her destination, and then reassembled, the story begins to turn itself inside out. Dietz's drops become progressively more jumbled and out of sequence, and she realizes she is moving forwards and backwards in time, caught in a loop where she is reliving the war over and over, from different vantage points along the sequence. She sees people die, sometimes blown up right in front of her, and returns earlier in the timeline to find them still alive. This is a masterclass in plotting--it could have been confusing as all hell, but I could pretty much follow the jumps, discovering where and when I was along with Dietz. Along with this, Dietz slowly begins to discover how much her corporation has been lying to her, and how the entire war is based on that lie. At first she tries to object, but then realizes there is no escape from this endless loop save by burning it all down--and at the end, this is exactly what she does.

This book is dense and chewy, and gives you a lot to think about. It is also very political, although those discussions are mainly left for certain chapters where end-timeline Dietz is being interrogated as a Mars POW. But those aren't just thrown in to push a message--they sum up Dietz's thinking, show how she broke free of the corporate and military propaganda she has been fed all her life, and provide her motivation. The book ends with her going back to the very beginning of the loop, the beginning of her endless war, freeing her friends and family in Sao Paulo, and riding the beam of light along with them to a different, better future.

This is one helluva ride. It's not a story to be rushed through. It's not a comfortable read by any means, but I think in the times in which we are living, it is a necessary one.

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