Book Reviews

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley


Released: April 2019
Publisher: Angry Robot
Pages: 358
Rating: 5/5

Be prepared, this is going to be a long one because the book was that good. It’s Starship Troopers meets Edge of Tomorrow but without having to deal with Tom Cruise. It’s an astonishing achievement in military science fiction.

Science fiction is an unbeatable genre to lose yourself within. I often find the best sci-fi stories are ones that not only take us to another place, but take us to a place that creatively mirrors our own sociopolitical and cultural fears. The Light Brigade has done that better than any other book I’ve read in recent years. While this was a book that took place during a thoroughly gruesome futuristic war, it was the parallels to our current political climate that kept making me feel as if I had been pulse blasted in the gut.

Our main character, Dietz, lives in a distant dystopian future that doesn’t seem all that unrealistic. The planet is already utterly destroyed before this war- both by climate change and by the corporations that now rule the world. The corporations have laid waste to the dying Earth and its remaining inhabitants as they go to increasingly greater and short-sighted lengths to consolidate power. Only those working within the corps are considered citizens, whilst the majority of people are left completely disenfranchised and forgotten in slums. Sound familiar? It should, because in many places this is already happening.

Dietz joins a corporate army after the human colonists on Mars destroy her hometown and everyone in it. To effectively battle insurgents both on Mars and around the world, the troops need to be able to move in a blink of an eye. Luckily, the military has developed transportation a la Star Trek transporters. Except it’s less “Beam me up, Scotty” and more “OH MY GOD MY ENTIRE BODY IS ON FIRE PLEASE KILL ME, SCOTTY!” It’s extremely dangerous, with many soldiers corporalizing as piles of steaming meat or stuck within nearby solid structures. The mortality rate is staggering, and this is before anyone even starts fighting.

Dietz survives the first “jump” but soon discovers she’s jumping out of order. She isn’t in her first ever battle- she’s in one in the future. There’s no time to deal with this as the fighting had already begun before her platoon materialized. Yet, even if she could figure out where she is and why, the 24/7 monitoring of every soldier by the corporation means she has to be careful about everything she says and does. Over the course of several jumps (and several different points in time), she eventually comes to learn the grim truth behind this war and that she is the only one who can stop the never ending cycle of annihilation.


Because this was a time travel book, it could have easily become confusing and hard to keep up with. However despite jumping around unpredictably throughout Dietz’s military career, it was a surprisingly coherent story. There were a few times I was a bit lost, but I think that was the point.

“Maybe you wanted a different story. One with more answers and less ambiguity. But that wasn’t how I experienced this war.”

By the end it all came together incredibly though. I had to re-read the last couple chapters several times because they absolutely floored me.

I also had to take a break from reading here and there because of the ultimate powerlessness Dietz felt about humanity’s endless cycles of self-destruction. With everything going on in the world right now, it really hit home.

“The power of corrupt governments and entrenched corporations feels inevitable. No doubt so did the rule of the kings and landowners before them.”

Don’t we all know it, sister.

I think Hurley turned the mirror on humans best with this one, though:

“People can always be convinced to turn on one another. All you have to do is convince them that their way of life is being attacked. Denounce all the pacifist liberal bleeding hearts and feel-good heretics, the social outcasts, the education. Call them elites and snobs. Say they’re out of touch with real patriots. Call these rabble-rousers terrorists. Say their very existence weakens the state. In the end, the government need not do anything to silent dissent. Their neighbors will do it for them.”

Often science fiction shows us as an egalitarian futuristic society that has overcome the “evils” of poverty and inequality. Yet, even with all that technology, would human nature really ever change? With everything going on in the world today, it sometimes doesn’t seem like we ever will. The Light Brigade captures this horrific truth within a brutal, bloody war that shows humans and corporations unchecked will only destroy everything in the end.


Now, don’t go away thinking this book will just be a depressing, gritty read full of blood and despair. There is a lot of that, but there’s also the underlining theme that it only takes a few of us to bring everyone back into the “light.” I finished this book with a profound sense of hope for humanity because it reminded me that we certainly do have a lot of our own Light Brigade coming out of the dark.

After blowing us all away with The Stars are Legion, Kameron Hurley is one of the strongest voices in science fiction today. With this second novel, she proves that she has no intent on slowing down. I can’t recommend this or her previous book enough. It’s available now, so what are you waiting for?




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