So this is my final review of books shortlisted for the 2020 Hugo Awards best novel! Check out my June post for more Hugos reviews, as well as information about the #ReadersWithoutBorders charity readathon. There’s still time to donate for your chance to win a free book!
A vast battle ground is established between Earth and Mars as their tense relations devolve into war. The corporate superpowers of Earth employ imperfect faster-than-light technology to ‘drop’ their soldiers into military hotspots by converting their bodies into light.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.Lord Alfred Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
Following a tragic Martian attack on Earth, Dietz enlists in the infantry and in doing so becomes the property of an Earth corp. After gruelling military training Dietz completes their first drops on Mars with their squad, but soon realises they are experiencing the war very differently to the other grunts.
The Light Brigade follows Dietz struggling to fight in a war that changes inexplicably between each drop, and to control the ‘combat madness’ brought on by breaking down their body into waves of light.
I listened to an audiobook of The Light Brigade last year and since then I’ve decided to bump it up from a 3-star rating to a 4-star rating. After making a full recovery from a period of obsessive time-management, I realised that I don’t actually like listening to audiobooks and this was affecting the ratings I gave. Also, like the visual of floating meatball planets with hyperactive immune systems from The Stars are Legion, the concept of this book has really stuck with me even after almost a year.
The Light Brigade is a standalone military sci-fi story with some fascinating ideas about the nature of time and matter, and a unique take on FTL. It’s also a complex story, with reader and protagonist being kept in the dark for much of the book. I imagine it was a headache to write given the flagrant disregard for chronology, as well as the confused protagonist.
The Light Brigade feels more accessible than Hurley’s debut novel as it involves significantly less abstract body horror (but like, still some) and the commentary on war, grief and classist oppression connects in an emotional way. Hurley writes clear characters and then puts them through a whole lot of crap, but the drive of the story is Dietz unravelling the mysteries of wibbly wobbly timey wime.
Hurley omits Dietz’ gender until the very end of The Light Brigade. This is an interesting choice and isn’t as distracting as it sounds. I think this has either been done to draw attention to Hurley’s social commentary outside of gender, or has been used to depersonalise the character, positioning the reader to see Dietz as just another grunt wearing a helmet.
Much like The Stars are Legion, this book is bloody, punchy and relentlessly tense.