Title: The Light Brigade
Author: Kameron Hurley
Blurb: The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief—no matter what actually happens during combat.
Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is.
Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero—or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.
Having never read a Kameron Hurley book before, I wasn’t sure to expect going into this, and I think that might’ve been a good thing, because I found this book quite refreshing specifically due to my lack of expectations. There were no themes in this book that haven’t been touched on before, no plot twists that haven’t been attempted by numerous other authors, no characters that really stood out from their archetypes, but because I didn’t know any of that going in, I didn’t let my biases distract me from the overall execution.
And the overall execution of the book was good. The way that Hurley brought all those aforementioned elements of the story together produced an extremely enjoyable sci-fi novel, with plenty of action and drama, and just enough relevant modern social critique to make you think.
The strongest aspect of the book is the structure of the plot. Without giving too much away, I can say that the plot is both linear and nonlinear in a very interesting way, due to the specific manner in which the main character, Dietz, experiences the various events.
That method of plotting gave the book’s story an extra bit of “oomph” because 1) it influenced Dietz’s characterization very heavily and made her a more well-rounded character, 2) it made the plot a bit of a puzzle that the reader was challenged to put together, and 3) it brought focus to the most exciting events at just the right times, so the pace never felt slow or bogged down by transitional events.
Another well-conceived aspect of the story was the world-building, which revolved around the idea of life for the common person after total corporate control has replaced democratically elected governments. This idea, as I said earlier, isn’t new, but the way it was fleshed out in this story—specifically regarding information access (or lack thereof) via manipulation of advanced technology and the ingrained dogma of “productivity” being the total measure of a person’s worth—gave this book a much different feel than any other story I’ve ever read with a similar premise.
While I did think the anti-corporate message was a bit heavy handed at times—it could’ve bit a tad more subtle in places without any reduction in the strength of the social critique—the overall world-building felt very realistic to me. And I appreciate that in a sci-fi novel.
If there was one place where the book was a tad weak, I’d say it was the supporting cast. Partially as a consequence of the plot structure, we meet a fairly large, revolving cast of secondary characters, and none of them really get enough “screen time” to feel as well developed as I prefer my characters to be. The entire book was also told from Dietz’ point of view, which further limited how much we could really get to know the other characters. That being said, I didn’t think any of the characterization was badly done. I just wished there had been a bit more of it.
Overall, I found The Light Brigade to be an exciting and interesting sci-fi novel that kept my attention from beginning to end and presented some enlightening social commentary.