Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley | 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist #6

This post is a part of my 2020 Arthur C. Clarke reading project where I will be reading and reviewing all the nominated titles. You can found out my thoughts about this project in my introduction post: 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist: Thoughts, Predictions & Reading Project.

Genre : Science Fiction, Military fiction, Dystopia

Publisher : Angry Robot

Length : 356 pages

Format : eBook

Rating : 5 stars

Publication Date : April 2nd 2019

Publisher’s description

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 is going on.

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.

Book Review

Dietz is a soldier working for the Tene-Silvia Corporation, one of the six corporations currently ruling Earth. Her mission is to protect the planet against the alien threat who caused the Blink: the disappearance of millions of people living in São Paolo, including Dietz’s entire family. Except the aliens aren’t aliens at all: they are humans who decided to cut themselves off from Earth to create a better world on Mars.

For the Big Six, the situation is unthinkable and the Blink is the perfect excuse to end Mars once and for all. For Dietz, the war is a chance to avenge her family. If she fights for Tene long enough, she’ll earn a corp citizenship. She’ll have access to healthcare, comfortable housing and education. However, Dietz knows her chances of coming back from the war are slim. But she doesn’t care, she’ll end Mars or she’ll die trying.

To fight against the Martians quickly and efficiently, the corps have invented the perfect solution: turning soldiers into light beams and sending them where they need them in a matter of seconds. However, some soldiers don’t come back right from the jumps: some see things they aren’t supposed to see, some loose limbs or memories, some become mad and some start experiencing time differently. Dietz’s first jump doesn’t go as planned and everything goes downhill from there. Is she going mad because of the war and the drugs the corps keeps on feeding her? What is happening with the war and who is she even fighting for or… against?

I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

What a ride, this book is a mindfuck in the best way possible. It’s a brutal tale of war, trauma and loss. It’s full of destroyed bodies, messed up people and gore and, it’s brilliant.

Where do I start with this one? In my review of Cage of Souls, I mentioned that I knew I was probably going to dislike the book after reading the first chapter. Well, I knew I was probably going to love The Light Brigade after reading the first page. And I did!

First of all, the world crafted by Hurley is fascinating. Imagine a world where everything is being decided by powerful money-hungry corporations. No, not now. An even worse version of our world (if such a thing is possible). Planet Earth is ruined, destroyed after nuclear wars, countries have shattered and everything is owned by the six biggest corporations. People have to buy their rights to citizenship or earn it. If you aren’t a citizen or resident of a corp, you’re a ghoul. Someone undesirable, that shouldn’t exist. A homeless scavenger.

Dietz was born as a ghoul. The world has taught her her entire that citizenship is the end goal and that she has to make herself useful to the corps. If her only useful quality is her blood, she will give it to them. And it doesn’t matter whose blood she has to spill if she’s fighting for the good guys. Because she will be a a hero. But is she? Is anyone?

“Think they were… maybe soldiers?” I said. “No. Probably civs.” “This isn’t what I signed up for.”

Paladin. Hero of the light. This wasn’t heroic at all, throwing ourselves at Martian artillery, blowing up regular people fleeing for their lives.

THE LIGHT BRIGADE BY KAMERON HURLEY

Dietz isn’t exactly a likeable character. She has a hero complex and she hide behind the corporations until she can’t lie to herself anymore.  Still, seeing her character grow and change was fascinating and I couldn’t help but to feel for her. And, at the end of the book, I was rooting for her completely. I applaud Hurley for crafting such an interesting and complex character.

Speaking of Hurley’s craft, her writing is superb. It’s sharp and beautiful without being flowery. The characters are realistic: the soldiers act and speak like soldiers and their interactions felt right.

In The Light Brigade, Hurley plays with various time-lines and interludes slowly creating a tension that built until it reached an explosive ending that made me want to re-read the book immediately. I read and very much enjoyed Hurley’s Meet Me in the Future, one of her short story collections that features the short story that inspired this novel. The short story (also called The Light Brigade) is a good story that stands well on its own. However, the long form turned a good concept into a great one. It managed to add so much more scope to the story. It’s a perfect example of how one should expand a short story: it builds on the world, the characters and the ideas in a masterful way.

Are you as old as your physical body, or as old as your memories?

THE LIGHT BRIGADE BY KAMERON HURLEY

Some readers will think that themes and ideas explored by The Light Brigade are nothing new. Numerous books have explored the consequences of wars on people, soldiers and civilians alike: the trauma, the unfair deaths, the unending cycle of violence, the fact that there are no heroes and that when you have lost everything, nothing will ever convince you to stop. And yes, The Light Brigade isn’t the first book about those subjects, but, the way it discusses them is brilliant. If you enjoy military fiction, I would highly recommend that you give this book a chance.

Now that I’ve read the entire Clarke shortlist, I can safely say that this book is my favorite.

Five stars.

I didn’t want them to look like Martians, whatever it was we had been told Martians looked like – tall and thin, tending toward the pale, clear skin, squinty eyes, snub noses. I knew the enemy was not a tone or a texture, but a system.

THE LIGHT BRIGADE BY KAMERON HURLEY

16 thoughts on “Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley | 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist #6

  1. I’ve been excited to read this for a while. Dystopian corporate hellscapes are one of my fave sci-fi tropes and sounds like it’s done really well here. Gonna put this on my TBR for Sci-Fi Month, great review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really didn’t enjoy this at all (I didn’t expect to, and the opening confirmed it for me too) but I admire it a great deal – Hurley does a great job pulling together an absurdly complex structure and jabbing home her points. However, I was surprised by the ending (i’ll skip details, because spoilers) – it wasn’t what I expected at all, and I really appreciated it.

    Liked by 1 person

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