There needs to be a war going on somewhere, Sergeant Vasquez.
–Linda Nagata - The Red (First Light) - c.2013, 2015
Lieutenant James Shelley never wanted to be a soldier. But life happened, and he made some choices, and then had one forced upon him. Military service or jail. He chose the military life. And now he is out in the desert leading men and women in a small-time war. He is a member of a linked combat squad (LCS), all the soldiers were neural skull caps and can communicate through them with one another and with other soldiers monitoring them. These skull caps also regulate emotions and moods, help the soldiers sleep, keep them on an even keel. But lately Shelley’s mind has been alerted to things he shouldn’t have known about, when a mission was going to go bad for example. When his life is in danger. He calls this “the red”, but he has no idea where it has come from.
Higher up the military command his whispered warnings are gaining notice. Putting him under scrutiny. Is it God talking to him? Or has someone hacked the military’s communications? Or is it an AI?
I decided to read this when I saw it mentioned by Renay over on Lady Business, but I’m pretty sure I’d seen favourable mentions of it in a couple of other places. It started life as a self-published title, but has since been picked up by Saga Press. It has also been nominated for a few awards including the Nebula and the John W Campbell award. So plenty of reasons for you to pick it up.
And if you want my opinion of it, I loved it. Loads of action and adventure, for those of you who are into the military side of things. I’m not a huge reader of Mil-SF [ref]I believe thats the term[/ref] but I’ve read a couple of books in that sub-genre. This was among the most entertaining of them. Mainly because the military aspect is the setting. So yes, it is important, and a big part of the book. But it is the setting, not the reason for the book. Instead the reader gets to enjoy plot and characters as well as descriptions of weapons.[ref]okay, I’ll admit, if there were extended descriptions of weapons in The Red: First Light I didn’t notice them. I skim those sorts of things.[/ref]
It also has all those sorts of questions that sci-fi should have. Like what is artificial intelligence, and how would we first notice it? And, of course, with the growth of devices integrated into people, what rights do we have to privacy, and how quickly would we become accustomed to having somebody else access our brains. Creepy to think of it, but would it quickly become just another part of life?
As I said I really enjoyed this book, Shelley is a great narrator. He is so cynical about life, especially about the army’s role in any situation, bu at the same time soldiering clearly suits him. He just doesn’t quite accept that fact yet.
There is also a good supporting cast, and plenty of women soldiers. No need to restrict them on “strength” grounds when soldiers wear exo-skeletons to help with the physical aspects of the job. All in all, so good I just went ahead and bought the next two books in the trilogy.