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A thrilling read with a great central concept
on May 15, 2011
The Eternity Brigade was first published in 1980. Major revisions have been made and the final edition was published in 2010. I've never read any earlier editions so I'm approaching this work as an entirely new 2010 release.
The concept of using cryogenics to make soldiers nearly immortal is intriguing. The story is told from the point of view of Hawker, an American soldier who is trapped in the army's resurrection technology, as he is forced to become a pawn in increasingly bizarre wars that he has no connection to. In short, Hawker is stuck in a nightmare. Through the centuries, he becomes even more alienated from society to the point that all of future civilization is incomprehensible to him. It's a haunting future to imagine and it really takes man's inhumanity to man to the next level.
On top of the amazing concept, it's fast-paced. It grabbed me very quickly and never let go of my interest. The narrative doesn't mess around with the details and moves the plot smoothly through the centuries and galaxies.
Although the reader doesn't learn much about Hawker, he's still a very sympathetic character. It's easy to see how anyone could be in Hawker's position, where control of one's life can be swept way by forces like larger personalities, groupthink, and the industrial-military complex. It makes Hawker's experiences even more frightening.
While those elements are exceptionally strong, I found the other characters and the world-building lacking. The characters feel like types rather than real individuals, and a few of them had unclear motivations. I couldn't pin down Hawker's original time. He makes some references to iPods which would set his time in 2001 and later. His fellow revived men find it surprising that China isn't completely communist anymore, but China was already economically liberal enough to join the WTO in 2001.
The Eternity Brigade moves through centuries with the changing forms of warfare and civilization. I appreciate the time-place disorientation that Hawker experiences with each incarnation, and the idea that future society can only become more strange and incomprehensible. But the future setting alongside the sombre tone often feels anachronistic. The future societies are reminiscent of the "exotic" alien societies that Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek interacted with. The aliens have easily identifiable binary genders and the humans live in bubble-domes. I just feel the tropes used for the setting are a bit quaint. The details that I found unconvincing are found in less than a tenth of the text, but they are distributed throughout the book so they occasionally distracted me from the main storyline.
The Eternity Brigade is a thrilling read with a great central concept. I enjoyed it, but I can't say it's my best read of the year. I still guarantee that this book is a provocative page-turner that's easily devoured in one sitting. It's worth reading to explore its engaging ideas about the human cost of war and its vision of dystopia, but don't expect too much from the characters or the world-building.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author.