RogerBW's Blog

Going Dark, Linda Nagata 28 February 2021

2015 military SF, last of its trilogy. James Shelley has abandoned friends and family to be a covert soldier for The Red, the mysterious AI that's now a power in the world. But just because he thinks the things he's doing are important, that doesn't necessarily make him valuable.

There's a weird omission in this book. Shelley has an emotional regulator, originally installed to help him deal with combat stress, that has become the avenue by which the Red gives him "feelings" about missions. And, because they have all the emotional punch they need, he trusts them above the chain of command or his fellow soldiers. Which is rather like being a religious fanatic, which he notices… or a paranoid schizophrenic, which he doesn't.

But later on when he decides to disconnect this channel… it doesn't seem to make much difference to his feelings except that he's now prepared to abandon a mission when it's turned suicidal, implying to me at least that he wasn't particularly being manipulated after all. So why does he still have the huge dislike for a planned Mars colonisation mission, which isn't at all of a piece with the rest of his psychology? Why doesn't he notice that maybe having allowed his girlfriend to believe he was dead might not in fact have been the best thing to do from any viewpoint other than that of making him a dedicated soldier for the Cause? And why does he continue to believe that the Red is basically on the right side, given how often it's been willing to throw him away and how much conflict it's used him to start under the guise of taking care of major threats?

All right, he's not a particularly introspective person, but I did find this a bit of a let-down, particularly combined with the lack of conclusion to the overall story: most of the players in place at the start of this book are still in place at the end, and nothing's really been resolved. We still don't know what the Red is, or what its goals may be (if any). This feels more like a series entry than like the conclusion of a trilogy and, presumably, the last look we'll get into this world, though Shelley's own story has definitely come to a discontinuity that makes it a reasonable place to end his own narrative.

The actual missions are rather better-handled, portraying a highly fluid situation in which allies and enemies can quickly swap places and the grunts on the ground have no way of keeping track of the politics even if they do have a bird's-eye view of the battlefield. But earlier books in the series had more to offer than just the missions.

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Previous in series: The Red: The Trials | Series: The Red

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 01:50pm on 28 February 2021

    I got the impression from the earlier books that the Red 'wants' to maximise consumer spending. Because it is an advertising/sales algorithm at its core. So it stops wars and does social manipulation to achieve the most stable world market full of happy shoppers.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:34pm on 28 February 2021

    Yeah. Except when it starts wars.

    I'm not saying all its secrets should have been laid bare in the text, but I'd like to have seen some indication that people were at least working out how to reach an accommodation with it and not have their pharmacy labs randomly assaulted by off-the-books soldiers.

  3. Posted by John P at 10:25pm on 01 March 2021

    If they are off-the-books soldiers then they've GOT to raid pharmacies - otherwise they'll NEVER get their Covid vaccine!

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