Thanks to the folks at Angry Robot, we’ve got the UK cover reveal for The Light Brigade, the latest SF novel from the most excellent Kameron Hurley. The cover was designed by Eve Ventrue.
Published by Saga in the US, The Light Brigade is an ambitious and thought-provoking military SF and it’s one hell of a ride.
“Soldiers are broken into light and sent to the frontline of a brutal interplanetary war, in this brilliant military SF from the Hugo Award-winning author of The Stars Are Legion. The corporate corps transform their soldiers into light to travel between interplanetary battlegrounds. Most grunts make it in one piece, though some don’t, and others come back… different. Fresh infantry recruit, Dietz, is keen to fight and claim her corporate citizenship, but when she’s busted into light it seems like her combat drops are out of sync with everyone else’s. Is Dietz experiencing the war differently, or is it combat stress bending her mind? As she struggles to untangle her timeline, Dietz glimpses a very different war than in the corporate propaganda – one that needs a hero, or maybe a villain – truth is the first casualty of war.”
We took the opportunity to talk to the author about the novel’s beginning as a short story, the challenges of putting it together and which authors she’s most excited about right now.
What was the starting point for the original The Light Brigade short story?
I tend to start my pieces with only broad strokes of knowledge about what’s coming. This story started with a very small idea – what if we could break people up into balls of light to get them from one war front to another? Not invisible beaming technology, but literally balls of light?
My academic background is in war and resistance movements, and I’m a fan of novels like Armor, The Stars My Destination, and The Forever War. I had a cohort of high school friends who joined the military right after high school, and watching their journey from excitement and propaganda to active deployment after 9/11 and eventual disillusion was sobering.
There was a powerful quote from a former soldier that I read over the course of my research, about how he had signed up thinking he was going to be a Jedi hero working for the resistance, and then realized he was actually a stormtrooper for the Empire. I wanted to follow a fresh group of recruits as they experienced that journey.
Is it difficult writing a protagonist who spends so much of the book not understanding what’s happening to them?
Strangely, no. But I think this is because I had a LOT of practice with this while writing The Stars Are Legion, which has an amnesiac main character. Having a character experience events out of order – while structurally much harder – was easier having already written a book where I needed to carefully reveal information to the reader and the protagonist at roughly the same time.
I also took a lot of inspiration in structurally revealing information and connections from N.K. Jemisin’s book, The Fifth Season, which was a master class in how to do this; letting the reader realize connections about halfway through without explicitly telling them.
Was it important to have an element of hope to counterbalance the grimmer aspects of the story and political commentary?
Absolutely. Ursula K. Le Guin’s National Book Award speech, where she noted that anything made by human hands can be unmade by them, really stuck with me. It’s a vital reminder in this day and age, when the inertia of shit in the world feels insurmountable. We have to understand that nothing is truly inevitable. You can take control of the construct.
When you’re telling a story like this, are parallels to today’s society something that you’re consciously thinking about or do they simply arise from the story and the setting?
Most of them just arose organically as I wrote the story. All of us are affected by the wider world; it bleeds into our fiction. I like to leave a lot of worldbuilding details in flux, stuff that I can discover as I write that makes it fun for me. That was especially important with a book like this that had to be so rigorously structured.
Do you remember what your first encounter with SF fiction was?
The son of a family friend gave me a paper grocery bag full of books when I was fourteen. Before that, I had picked up whatever book looked interesting at the library, and encountered books like Alanna’s First Adventure and The Phantom Tollbooth.
But that bag of books was the first time I encountered what I’d call “adult” science fiction and fantasy. It included some Forgotten Realms tie-ins, but also the first book of The Wheel Of Time. That one took some getting into, but once I did, I was hooked. It also led me to the first Dragonlance novels, which were basically to me what Tolkien was to other teen readers. I was never able to get into Tolkien, but loved that first Dragonlance trilogy.
Which authors are you most excited about at the moment?
We’re living in a golden age of science fiction, which is both wonderful and overwhelming – my pile of books to read never, ever, gets shorter. We have masters of the craft like N.K. Jemisin coming into their own, folks like Martha Wells finally getting the respect they deserve, and newer writers like Cassandra Khaw, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Ada Palmer doing some really exciting work.
Tor.com has given a lot of newer writers who write weird stuff a nice platform, too. Folks like Spencer Ellsworth and Sarah Gailey have been able to write work for them that would have been nigh impossible to sell at that length to other publishers. Lucky for us the venue exists to launch a lot of these careers.
What do you have coming up next?
I’m currently finishing up the third and final volume of my Worldbreaker Trilogy, The Broken Heavens, which will be out in the fall of 2019. I’m waiting on some paperwork for another science fiction thriller, which I hope will be out soon after! More about that when it’s official. Fingers crossed.
The Light Brigade will be available from Angry Robot on 4 April. For more from Kameron Hurley about The Light Brigade, pick up the next issue of SciFiNow, on sale 14 December.