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The Red: First Light (1) (The Red Trilogy) Mass Market Paperback – June 30, 2015
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"...one of the best pieces of near future Mil-SF ever written. What's so good about it? The action rocks and the characters are engaging as hell. But this isn't just adventure fiction, it's Mil-SF and very well done, straight out of DARPA's dreambook, not somebody's fantasy." --Ernest Lilley, SFRevu
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After the conclusion of the first book, I felt if the original premises had matured, it would be a worthwhile read. As a fan of Nagata's earlier works, I knew she was capable of better than average prose and intriguing ideas. Unfortunately this series devolved rather than evolved. The second and third books read far more like an advanced script for a first person shooter game in which nothing much advances but the bloodshed. If you are into this type of near-term military science fiction, then this could be your cup of tea. For me, I felt Nagata could have taken this to a much different level of discourse and explored the ideas she presented in the first book with more mature deftness.
I will say, however, if I were an agent looking for a good book basis for an upscale TV series on future war or even a couple movies, I'd want to negotiate rights.
Okay, so up to now this sounds like it could be just another "military sci-fi" glorified body-count-with-lasers story, right?
Here's how it's different:
Nagata creates *real* characters. These people sweat, they worry, they doubt themselves, they make mistakes. Better yet, this book isn't penned in the jingoistic yellow ink that soaks most military SF. Nagata creates a world where people behave cynically (surprise!) without regard to the little people who get crushed underfoot (gasp!).
If you're sick of the Mary Sue morality fables that permeate mil SF, where super-goody-good-guys never miss a shot in dropping regiments, brigades, divisions of baddies-too-evil-to-have-faces-or-names (ahem -- David Drake? this crap?, then you will LOVE this book.
I think of Michael Crichton (at his best -- not his crabby old-man global-warming-denial senility) when I read The Red. All the technology is cohesive, well-thought-out, and actually plausible. There isn't any hand-waving hyperspace or zero-point energy or magical nonsense.
Yeah, I really can't say enough good things about The Red. I'll stand by the entire trilogy as well -- all three installments had me hiding out in the bathroom at work, and staying up till the *wee* hours, reading when I should've been $something_productive.
Is has some cool concepts and ideas, but the execution is horrible.The only reason i finished it is because I kept thinking "can it really be this bad?". The book is littered with irrelevant information and loose ends.
Some examples: ***spoiler alert***
The robot legs. A huge amount of this book takes place in a hospital/science facility, where the main characters is retrofitted with mechanical legs (by people who are all very angry and grumpy for some unexplained reason). You would think that after spending this much time on the robot legs, they would be sentral to the story at some point.
You would be wrong. The only thing the legs are used for in the rest of the entire book, is opening a door during a firefight. That's it.
From the book:
"When I get back to the main section of the control room, I see Kendrick, sitting at a console. I do a double take because he’s not wearing his helmet. He’s still got his face mask on, but his helmet is sitting on the floor at his feet. From boot on up, it’s drilled into us that during combat operations the helmet does not come off. Period. End of discussion. Remove it during a field exercise and you will get to start your training all over again. Kendrick’s helmet is off because he’s talking on a Black Cross satellite phone. When he sees my visored gaze fixed in his direction, he flips me the finger."
After this section, you would expect there to be some consequences of removing the helmet. You would expect someone to get shot in the head at some point, or some other consequence as a result of someone not wearing a helmet.
Again, you would be wrong. Nothing happens. There is no more mentioning of why helmets should be removed, and it has no consequences for anyone for the rest of the book.
(I would also like to know why Kendrick flips the finger, but there is no more explanation as to why he does this. He is a commanding officer who flips his finger at a subordinate. Why?)
From the book:
"Then I pack my things. There isn’t much. I’ve got a couple of army T-shirts and shorts, a hoodie, and a new combat uniform. They go easily into a small duffel, with room to spare."
"I smile an apology and grab my duffel. “Your timing is the worst. I have to go.”
"I drop my duffel in a chair near the glass doors and turn to the MPs."
The bag is mentioned three times in a few pages. Why is there room to spare? What is he going to put in all that free space? Why is he bringing the bag? Why is it mentioned all the time?
If you read the book in order to get answers to these questions, you will be disappointed. The bag is not mentioned after this.
Some may think that it is silly to focus on these details, but they are just examples of a thing that is going on through the whole book: there is so much information here that is not relevant to the story. It's just filling.
Oh, and someone thinks a neat way to get rid of some sort of AI algorithm that no one really knows what is, is by detonating nukes at certain places. Without much explanation of why they think that is a good idea, or that the character is introduced in such a way that that would seem like a reasonable thing to for such a person to do...
Top international reviews
This one was a very compelling near future story, told in a first person narrative by a not entirely volunteer US Army Lieutenant. The protagonist is the leader of a 'linked combat squad' who are a sort of specialised infantry with an exo-skeleton controlled by an external skull cap that can read (and affect) their brain states. From what I know of current and proposed military capabilities this is an entirely believable future, just a little into future from now (perhaps a decade or two, but happily non-specific so that we don’t fall into the trap of outdating the story when the technology doesn't go mainstream by the date given).
The premise is that there is something nudging people to make decisions, and influencing the options that they are being presented with. We first see this in the person of the protagonist, Lt Shelley, who gets premonition flashes about the presence of an enemy which allows him to react just in time. In particular one of the more overt interventions of this unexplained presence is a loss of contact from 'guidance' at a crucial moment.
Avoiding spoilers, the story was very tightly written and kept me turning pages, to the extent that I stayed up late reading, got the bus from the station to the office so I could keep reading and only put it down when I got to my desk and had to start working (I read in the lift and walking along the corridor). It was told at a good pace, with a few good twists and turns to keep it interesting and having you wonder what was happening next.
Happily there is a planned sequel, which I'll be acquiring when it comes out.
I don't read a massive amount of military SF but this was exactly what I was in the mood for - hypercompetent characters, slightly compromised (and slightly enhanced) and doing their best to survive a variety of situations. Shelley's narrative voice won me over almost instantly - he's someone who almost always knows what to do (I love how the undercurrent of engrained training just sits under everything he thinks without being showy) and who wants to do the right thing, but he's very human about it. There's also the small problem of some other party influencing his thoughts via the data connection - mostly intervening to keep him and his team alive, but how far can you really trust something you can't understand?
The layers of the plot revolve around pretty contemporary problems (most people stress about lost data connections quite regularly...!) but with glimpses of a subtly different future world that includes more than just America (I really liked the tension of the Africa section at the start).
I'm intrigued to see where the sequel will go and will be hunting down some more of the author's back catalogue (I think she says two of her unrelated short stories inspired this book?)
Will be interested to see more.
This is a great near future sci-fi novel with enough realism and speculation to make the world as exciting and interesting as the characters and story itself. Highly recommended, and I can't wait to read the other novels in the trilogy. That said, some parts do seem a little over the top or underdeveloped, but they're few and far between and don't detract from the novel overall.
Overall, great reading.