RogerBW's Blog

The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata 29 April 2017

2013 military SF, first of a trilogy. In the near future, Lieutenant James Shelley commands a Linked Combat Squad of tech-enhanced soldiers in a desert war everyone knows is pointless, but profitable to the right people. Lately he seems to have developed a reliable sense of imminent danger. (vt The Red in 2015 revised release.)

This book gets immediate military SF points by not having a boot-camp sequence but jumping straight into the action, and more points from me by dealing with one of my favourite SF subjects (which I won't make explicit as it's pleasing to discover it in the book). Some writers would have written just the mil-sf, others just the other bit, but Nagata blends the two effectively. Someone or something is clearly providing Shelley's sudden sense that things are wrong and what he should do about it, and people have different ideas as to who or what it might be.

"The Bible commands us, 'Let no one be found among you who practices divination or sorcery.' Deuteronomy 18:10."

Several smartass responses wrestle for priority release, but Kendrick made it clear I am not to antagonize Sheridan. I hold on to my stonewall expression. "I have not, to my knowledge, ever engaged in divination or sorcery, ma'am."

I can't go into much detail without revealing information that it's better to find out in the course of reading, but it does transpire that Shelley's implant and suit records are being turned into reality TV, and several different power blocks have interests in how his next few missions go. (The politics here are a bit simplistic, and there ought to be more powers; as in a mystery novel, the experienced reader knows that the responsible party will be one that we've already met.)

Nagata has written non-military SF, and avoids many of the usual traps: there are non-military people in here who are good guys, and there are military people who are not. One drawback is that there isn't much of a conclusion within this volume, and certainly no real answers to the big questions. Personally I could have done with a bit more of that and a bit less combat, but it's a well-handled blend even if the mixture isn't exactly as I'd like it. Pace slacks a little when there isn't fighting going on, which is unfortunate.

But Shelley at least comes over as a real person, and he's not the only one in the book, even if some of the other soldiers are necessarily sketched-in (we only really meet them during combat sequences). For all its minor flaws this was a book I very much enjoyed.

Recommended by Dr Bob. Followed by The Red: The Trials.

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