War was all about the annihilation of truth. Every good dictator and CEO knows that.
“Good find, Dietz,” Jones said.
It didn’t feel like a good find. It felt like I’d made everything more complicated (255).
Kameron Hurley has developed a considerable following over the last decade. Previously, she has been awarded two Hugos and a Sydney J. Bounds Award, and she has been a finalist for the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the British Science Fiction and Fantasy Award, and the Locus Award. Her most recent work, The Light Brigade has landed her a 2020 Hugo nomination for best novel.
The winner of that award will be announced this coming weekend.
Title: The Light Brigade
Author: Kameron Hurley
In an authoritarian future controlled by a handful of powerful corporations, a soldier who watched her community die joins the military to seek revenge and gain full citizenship. Dietz soon finds herself on military missions. She returns with different memories than her squad.
While we all know that truth is the first casualty of war, she begins to suspect the depth of the deception at work.
This novel contains a broad assortment of triggers, in addition to the sort of language one expects from soldiers. The review takes a softer approach, but be cautioned that The Light Brigade itself may prove a rough ride for some readers.
The book hurls us through a series of hellish experiences (though it features a little less of the gore and body horror that have made some of Hurley’s earlier works controversial), sends its protagonist moving through a necessarily complicated plot, and brings us to a remarkable conclusion that holds up, whether you see it coming at some point or not.
An apolitical war novel cannot exist. A dystopic future will always comment on current sociopolitical trends. These necessary things Hurley generally handles well. Your response will vary, of course, depending on your response to the novel’s politics.
As we near the conclusion, the novel and its protagonist become more overtly didactic. Some of the more overt politics make sense in context, but I felt the excess in those latter chapters shortchanges an impressive work that understands and communicates its political themes without them.
Originality: 3/6 Hurley’s novel draws from past dystopias, and works such as Starship Troopers (the beginning, in particular, feels like a response to Heinlein, from a far more subversive perspective), The Forever War, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Sirens of Titan, among others. She acknowledges the debt to past authors, but her novel stands on its own merits.
Jones went crater to crater, probably figuring the likelihood artillery would hit the same place twice was low. I was pretty sure that’s not how chance worked. Smoke hugged the ground; twisting yellow and green. Sarin was clear, tasteless, and odorless. This had to be something else.
I pushed the thought out of my mind. Heard only the sound of my own breath. The formerly flat plain was pockmarked with craters and dirt mounds and bodies. I tripped over two soldiers still writing, soaked in blood. As we advanced, the field of bodies grew thicker (154).
Story: 5/6 Hurley is one hell of a storyteller.
Characterization: 5/6 Dietz dominates the novel, and her choices are convincing in context. Even given the restrictions of first-person narration, I felt many of the other significant characters were not as well-defined as they might have been.
Emotional Response: 5/6 Few works of military SF so effectively create a sense of what the personal trauma of war might feel like. People can survive horrors, but they do not survive them easily.
Overall: 5/6 The Light Brigade delivers a fast-paced story, driven by a speculative SF element, set in a disturbingly credible future world that functions, to some degree, as a satire of our own. Despite being a novel of our time, it will remain readable when the future comes. Some themes remain timeless, and often depressingly so. I don’t know if Hurley will win the Hugo this coming weekend, but she’s as at least as good as many writers who have.
In total, The Light Brigade receives 34/42