Sci-Fi Review: ‘The Red: First Light’ by Linda Nagata

The Red: First LightIn the grim darkness of the far future there is only war… No that isn’t right. The sentiment is right, but we are not dealing with the far future here.

Start over.

War is hell, war is eternal, and war is damn good for business. And if war is a business then that leaves very little room for peace. Lieutenant James Shelley leads a combat squad far from home, because there is an old saying about things that shouldn’t be done where one eats.   The squad is linked through the cloud, plugged in through a skullcap that leaves the soldiers of tomorrow forever connected. Emotions can be controlled, information disseminated, and every action watched through the eyes of these armored soldiers to keep the war machine moving.

Shelley is used to following certain premonitions to keep his squad safe, earning him the nickname of King David. Failing to follow them causes a disaster; and opens up a whole new path. The already cynical soldier finds himself learning more than he wants about the way his world works; war shown as entertainment and just how secure the linked net the army relies on are suddenly transparent. More importantly he learns to what lengths the powers that be are willing to go to in order to keep things going their way.

Dark military sci-fi with a distinct political angle. The military industrial complex is the true power in this near future story; political heads bow to its will. The ‘dragons’ that run it can start a new war on a whim; and wag the dog so people believe the justification just as fast. A civil war can be constructed in minutes and yet even the complex has no ideas when a rogue agent worms into the system they have ruled from.

The Red: First Light is action packed around its political maneuvering. Shelley finds himself a more recognizable and seemingly important figure as his story moves on, but we see the pawn he remains behind the scenes until he has a chance to maybe make a difference. Seeing the world through his cynical eyes and then watching how invisible hands work everything is a trip; even as the book ends it is hard to tell what was accomplished and who can be claiming victory.

“You will go to hell for it, for all eternity, and after the Devil has flayed off your skin, he’ll fuck you while you’re lying on a bed of coals.”

With its harsh language and obvious political bent I would imagine not everyone will be completely enthralled. The book can also be broken up into separate parts that play very different; the middle deals with the making of a new kind of soldier and is paced much slower than the rest of the book.  But I give you the most obvious book comparison, one Starship Troopers. Both deal with mechanized soldiers on the periphery, and the political ramifications front and center.  They just approach it from different views and I for one welcome our new cynical overlord.

Highly recommended for fans of military fiction, sci-fi, or for anyone looking to question everything about what drives the world economic decisions.

4 Stars

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