A searing, devastating indictment of both unquestioning loyalty and the corporate interests that use up workers in order to profit shareholders, extrapolated to their grimmest reality, Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade is both gripping and timely in this endless year of 2020. Our narrator, Dietz, grew up in the slums of Sao Paulo, eking a living with her family till her parents could earn residency with the ruling corporation of Teni-Silva. Resident living was slightly better, but the real perks were held by citizens, so once she’s eligible, Dietz signs up for the military, one of the few pathways open to citizenship. Granted, it still takes a long time that way and isn’t without its dangers, but she’s also motivated by the chance to strike back at the Martians who killed millions of people in attacks on both the moon and earth. She sees herself as a paladin, using force to protect the righteous, a belief that sustains her through brutal military training and then through the bizarre things that happen to her after Drops.
Drops are the name for the process that transports soldiers thousands of miles through space by busting them down to light and reconstituting them at the other end. It isn’t foolproof — people do wind up with limbs improperly reattached or in the middle of solid structures — but it’s fast and relatively cheap. Trouble is, Dietz doesn’t seem to move just through space but also through time, and what she sees isn’t pretty. Is she going mad or is she part of a Light Brigade that could very well save the world from itself?
I don’t know if, when the book came out in 2019, it seemed less prophetic than it does in 2020 but wow, does Ms Hurley know how to write meaningful social commentary in the form of military sci-fi! Which shouldn’t come as a surprise given her training as a historian specializing in the future of war and resistance movements, but it’s always weird actually watching a prophecy unspool in real time. The Light Brigade tackles so many important sociopolitical issues that it’s hard to pinpoint just one as being particularly relevant, but I must say that if you have any interest in seeing how a world ruled by unfettered corporate greed shakes out, you should absolutely read this novel. Unnecessary spoiler for anyone with half a brain: a future where corporations are given control of humanity is not a good future.
The sci-fi throughout was also pretty great, but I’m fairly easy to please when it comes to that sort of thing. I didn’t super love the ending but I didn’t hate it either. Writing-wise, I was very impressed by how Dietz’s gender was largely irrelevant and unknown throughout the book, tho I assumed she was female even before being told otherwise. Plus, the audiobook is narrated by Cara Gee (insert heart eyes emoji here,) which is the number one reason I would ever get an audiobook.