About the Book
Reality TV and advanced technology make for high drama in this political thriller that combines the military action of Zero Dark Thirty with the classic science fiction of The Forever War.
Lieutenant James Shelley, who has an uncanny knack for premeditating danger, leads a squad of advanced US Army military tasked with enforcing the peace around a conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The squad members are linked wirelessly 24/7 to themselves and a central intelligence that guides them via drone relay—and unbeknownst to Shelley and his team, they are being recorded for a reality TV show.
When an airstrike almost destroys their outpost, a plot begins to unravel that’s worthy of Crichton and Clancy’s best. The conflict soon involves rogue defense contractors, corrupt US politicians, and homegrown terrorists who possess nuclear bombs. Soon Shelley must accept that the helpful warnings in his head could be AI. But what is the cost of serving its agenda?
I’m not a huge fan of military SciFi. I mean, I’ll read it, but I don’t generally go out of my way to do so. However, when this one was recommended to me by an author I really admire, I knew I had to give it a shot.
First Light by Linda Nagata is… wow. Really, that’s all you need to know.
First Light takes place in the near future. War is business, and technology is the fuel it runs on. This is a rather cynical look at the great war machine, but no less compelling or thought provoking due to that. In fact, I enjoyed the rather cynical tone and found that it gave the book a greater depth than I was expecting to find in a military science fiction novel.
The technology is fascinating, and incredibly realistic. Connections in the brains of soldiers keep them informed and constantly connected with military intelligence. They are always being recorded and observed, and none of their actions go unchecked or unnoticed. Their emotions are moderated through connections in their skulls. And there are other modifications which are incredibly believable and very well crafted. For example, artificial limbs that allow soldiers to get back into battle quicker, and function better than normal limbs. There are modifications with vision that allow individuals to see better, and further.
Technology isn’t always a good thing. In fact, in First Light the technology is really one of the more interesting moral quandaries in the whole novel, as well as one of the most important plot points. James Shelley, our protagonist, is the first one who notices that not all things are as they seem. Shelley has some odd precognition, moments his fellow soldiers call “King David moments.” He has some incredible luck, and his hunches almost always end up saving lives, or winning battles. When Shelley and his comrades start investigating exactly why this is happening, things start to get interesting.
Nothing about this novel is simple. War is business, a game played by powerful individuals referred to as dragons. Soldiers and armies are nothing more than pieces to be moved around. Technology is helpful, but what happens when the technology outpaces the people who invent it? So much about this novel toes the line. Everything has a good and a bad side. The military is presented in a really sympathetic, fantastic light. It’s easy to admire the devotion and loyalty that those in the military feel for each other. However, not every war is just. Technology is helpful, giving soldiers a necessary edge, and saving and improving lives, but there’s a limit where helpful becomes harmful and Nagata examines this at length in First Light.
Basically, everything has a dark and a light side, and Nagata really explores both sides deftly and it is incredibly thought provoking. Too much of a good thing is still too much. Sometimes it is easy to forget that, but Nagata reminds readers in unforgettable ways.
The first half of the novel is spent establishing many of these concepts, and exploring some of the dark and light sides of the issues presented. However, the second half the scope really expands. The plot becomes broader, and global. Shit was real before, but in the second half shit gets even more real (does that even make sense?). The plot is intricate, and there are a lot of threads that weave together, sometimes it gets confusing, but things work themselves out quickly enough.
First Light had me on the edge of my seat from the first sentence to the last page. This book has some of the most pulse pounding scenes I’ve ever read. The gritty realism makes it all just that much more engrossing and believable. Things move quickly, and it’s absolutely impossible to put this book down once you get into it. The ending is remarkable. Mostly what impressed me, despite all of what I’ve already said, is how thought provoking this book was. It’s the perfect blend of action, intrigue, and cynical analysis of important issues.
First Light blew me away. I absolutely devoured this book, reading it in all my spare minutes and seconds. Linda Nagata writes one hell of a yarn. I can’t wait to see what happens next.