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The Light Brigade Audio CD – Audiobook, March 19, 2019
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Science fiction has, at it’s best, always had challenging sociopolitical messages. Obviously, it also challenged what was considered scientific dogma of the time.
On the later, I really enjoyed the book. Her sci-fi concepts of traveling as light were really interesting. The consequences of early practice in that mode of travel were suitably horrifying. Her description of battlefields were to me very realistic. That for me would have merited a 4/5 rating. Not a 5/5 because I though character development was lacking.
Her sociopolitical commentary for me was very problematic. It was very simplistic warmed over pseudomarxism. The big bad corporations take over and control everyone’s lives as a proxy for governmental control. She makes a comment about Ayn Rand that tells me she has no real idea of Rand’s philosophy. Somehow, if we can just escape big corporations all will be better. It’s extremely simplistic and denies historical advances made on the half of the individual by real freedom. This part gets a 1/5 or at best a 2/5 in my grading system.
So, overall, this is a mixed bag. It was good at times, sometimes riveting and often annoying. I don’t mind sociopolitical commentary challenging my belief system, however, this didn’t come close to measuring up to that mark.
This is easily Hurley's best work to date: it is gritty, it is action-packed, it is horrific, it is utterly realistic in all of its grim details, but despite this—or rather, because of it—it also somehow still conveys a very powerful anti-war message. It is so, so seldom that an author can capture so beautifully the soldier's fundamental dilemma—that you need to fire that shot and execute that order because if you do not, it is your family’s and your comrades’ and your own life that hang in the balance. Yet this does not stop you from seeing and realising how ugly, pointless and awful warfare is and how it, in the final analysis, only serves the interests of those in power. Those whose lives will never even be touched by it.
I have hardly ever seen Hurley so spot on: dialling back on both the weird and the gender issues and instead focusing on a simple, universal and timeless truth that seems to hit right at home. And unsurprisingly, only 2 weeks after publication, the novel has garnered universal acclaim and drawn comparisons to both Starship Troopers and The Forever War. This is the best new release I have read so far this year, and its high-octane, no-nonsense plot and powerful message are likely to make The Light Brigade one of the main contenders for best sci fi book of 2019.
Finally, I hate to mix in politics in a book review, BUT: I have already seen backlash, not against the book per se, but against Hurley for supposedly ‘pushing Marxist ideas’, accusations that have left me speechless. The Light Brigade's world is a future where nations have been dissolved and replaced with corporations that literally own you. A future where fundamental human rights are but a rumoured relic of the past and where you can be murdered or thrown into the gutter at the whim of any corporate executive. To call advocating universal suffrage, healthcare and pension as well as basic human rights ‘pushing Marxism’ is daft at best. These are actually the tenets of the European welfare state, which is still capitalist at its core and which—surprise, surprise—does actually work. What does NOT work is having to mortgage your house to cover your hospital bill or have someone pull out your teeth because you cannot afford dental. Get this in your heads at last.
Like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, this is a novel about a soldier who’s come unstuck in time. Both novels have biting social commentary and a solid sense of the absurd but are written with great love and compassion for humanity. This book just happens to contain much more grimdark content. Vonnegut was much kinder to Billy Pilgrim than Hurley is to Dietz. Stick with it; the ending is worth all the guts and gore.
In many ways, this is her best work yet. I can’t wait to reread it.
See you in the future. Be the light!
Top international reviews
Another, critical, part is something of a spoiler but let's say that after spending enough time to lull you into thinking you know what sort of story you're getting, Hurley throws everything sideways and uses a effortlessly clever piece of structure to do it.
This is by no means a perfect book, occasionally feeling like it's losing its way, but Hurley has much more control over this story than she did in the fascinating-but-messy The Stars Are Legion.
If there's one constant about science fiction, it's the acknowledgement that in the future people will still have to go to war and fight wars of varying degrees of pointlessness. The weapons and technology may change but the horror and loss will remain the same. SF has a fertile backlog of novels which have looked at war through the prism of new technology: Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1959), Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965), Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (1974), Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill (2004, filmed in 2014 as Edge of Tomorrow) and John Scalzi's Old Man's War (2005) are among the most notable. Each takes a different approach - Harrison's is satirical, Haldeman's is tragic - to the same basic idea of people fighting and dying for causes both noble and foolish.
The Light Brigade is Kameron Hurley's contribution to this subgenre. It is her second stand-alone SF novel (after the fine The Stars Are Legion) and the first which moves away from seeking out brand new ideas and settings to adopting a more classic SF approach.
The result is an unbounded triumph. The Last Brigade is Hurley's finest novel to date, a fast-moving, intelligent science fiction war story that reflects on the pointlessness of war, the evils of unflinching jingoism and the cynicism of corporate culture. It's also a remarkable character piece, all the more remarkable because the book hides a lot about its protagonist, peeling back the layers one light-jump at a time as we learn more about them and the war as they are experiencing it.
As with her previous work, this is a book that feels angry, with the characters trapped in situations beyond their control and trying to find a way out. Dietz is resourceful, courageous and occasionally hot-headed (although not as much as some of Hurley's previous protagonists) and as bewildered as the reader at what is going on, and it's interesting to see the character putting the pieces together at the same time the reader does. The reader comes to understand the story even as Dietz does, and also understands their own nature.
The book is fast-paced, with a relentless pace, but which also breaks up the action into distinct episodes as Dietz finds themselves in a new time period and has to work out how events in this time period are relating to those previously experienced. The book asks some interesting questions about control and volition and the first half of the novel can feel a little passive, as Dietz is reactive to events, but this changes in the second half as Dietz is grounded in several of the time periods and is able to spend months at a time working on ideas to see if the future (or the past) can be changed. The result is that the book is thoughtful and action-packed by turns, with a strong ending that succeeds in making sense of all that came before.
The Light Brigade (*****) is a superlative SF novel of science and war and Kameron Hurley's finest novel to date.
Dietz was a new recruit signing up for the corporate military after his family disappeared with million others in the “Blink”.
The big corporations control the world and the people are fed the corporation friendly version of news.
The soldiers “grunts” are transported Via kind of teleportation device and some people like Dietz sees the war out sequence and the question was do the higher ups know this or not.
There is a lot of discussion around mental health and inner anguish of the atrocities of war.
The book is well written and you feel the journey with Dietz as jumps through the time loops.
It is a social commentary carefully crafted to be very enjoyable and great fun to read.
Maybe Kameron Hurley can be our Ariadne, providing the slim thread of inspiration which can lead us out of the death maze.
But don't worry if you can't be bothered with the philosophy - Hurley's novel provides a gripping read, even at the superficial level.
It won't be for everyone, this is not hard sci-fi, nor space opera. A bit like Old Mans War maybe, but in my mind quite a bit better.
Not perhaps the ending I would have hoped for, but it tied it all together well.
Definitely worthy of the comparisons with both Starship Troopers and The Forever War. The Light Brigade also presents a much more compelling vision of the future than either of those works through the searing mirror Hurley holds up to the world she writes from, default assumptions about gender roles, and the future we are building for those who will follow us.
Anger at the way the world is heading.
A book for now, like all good sci fi.
Needs at least 2 readings.