Sunday 14 April 2019

Recommended "Light" Reading

If Starship Troopers had been written by the love child of Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, the
Kameron Hurley's latest
novel is one of her best.
(Image via Simon&Schuster)
result might be something like The Light Brigade.

It may seem grandiose to compare Kameron Hurley to three legends of the field, but her latest novel — her seventh so far — might just be worthy. The Light Brigade solidifies her emergence as one of the most important voices in recent science fiction.

Set against the backdrop of a corporatist dystopia that has completely abandoned any pursuit of the public good, The Light Brigade begins in a manner that is fairly typical of military science fiction. Humanity is attacked without provocation, and an idealistic youth joins the army to become a hero.

This time the prospective hero is a young woman named Dietz, whose family was killed when the city of Sao Paulo was destroyed. However, Hurley slowly turns the standard military science fiction paradigm on its head, peeling away the layers as Dietz discovers truths about the nature of the conflict, about the corporation she’s fighting for (Tene-Silvia), about Earth’s economic reality, and about her own temporal misplacements.

In this war, the six major corporations of the Earth are at war with the free peoples of Mars, who have developed a distinct culture, given their long-term estrangement from the rest of humanity. Hurley uses this setting to explore the dehumanization of adversaries via political rhetoric. For example, Earth leaders describe “Martians” as something other, something lesser, than people.

We are reluctant to reveal too much about the Martians, and about the politics underlying the conflict, because the main character’s shifting understanding is one of the great joys of the book.

Hurley does not shy away from the dark and intertwining complexities of political power, but explores this human condition in a way that will speak to a wide range of readers. Her ability to put forward political arguments without being didactic reminded us of Heinlein at his best.

Over the course of the book, Dietz becomes unstuck in time, leaping to different points in the war like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five. In the hands of a less-skilled novelist, this nonlinear narration could have been aggravatingly confusing. But the clarity of Hurley’s prose, and the way her protagonist slowly begins to understand what’s going on is entertaining and engaging.

Using temporal dislocation as a metaphor for the alienation many soldiers experience when returning
Hurley at Worldcon 2017.
(Photo by Henry Söderlund,
who is an excellent photog.)
home from war has been a recurring theme in military science fiction, notably in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Dietz struggles with relationships, is constantly trying to figure out who knows what about her, and unsure of her role within her organization at any given moment.

This narrative was put together so thoughtfully — it made me want to go back and see how the story might unfold when pieced together in chronological order, rather than in the order experienced by Dietz. Reading the narrative as a straight chronology reveals both attention to detail and internal consistency.

Two years ago, this blog highly recommended Hurley’s previous novel The Stars Are Legion despite occasionally finding the narrative bewildering due to the protagonist’s amnesia. Happily, The Light Brigade includes the strengths of that previous work and exhibits few of its flaws.

While The Light Brigade does invite comparisons to several classic military science fiction novels, it is a wholly original work that pushes the boundaries of the subgenre. It is a page turner that feels fresh and modern, while being knowledgeable in conversation with decades of the genre’s legacy.

In 20 years, when people talk about the classics of military science fiction, we are willing to bet that the conversation will start with Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man’s War, and The Light Brigade. Yes, it is that good.


  1. Look forward to reading it. Starship Troopers and Forever War are two of my favorite military science fiction novels. I have just reread Starman Jones and Space Cadet, two novels I first read more than 45 years ago. Heinlein continues to engage me and his ideas seem more relevant now than when I was an early teen.

  2. About to start on the original version of Stranger in a Strange Land.