The Red by Linda Nagata

The Red by Linda NagataHow much of your privacy would you give up to have superpowers? For Liutenant James Shelley it doesn't seem like he has a choice. He is monitored every single moment as long as he is in the army. He also seems to have a source of information that he cannot explain himself, something that makes him feel when there is some imminent danger.

The Red by Linda Nagata is the first book in a trilogy. On the cover it looks like a high-tech thriller, and it says clearly on the front that it is about war. It does deliver on these promises, but it is also a lot more. I found that the things that wanted me to read on and that stayed in my head after putting the book down were the problems surveillance and individuality in a hyperconnected environment. It's interesting to see how James Shelley navigates his existence and maintains relationships, being watched all the time – by his employers, but also in ways he could not foresee.

I should confess that I haven't read much of the kind of stories that might be labelled "Military SF", and even less that I have really liked. It's difficult not to compare The Red to The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The books are in some ways very different, but they also have some things in common, for example the criticism of war and of the role of media.

In The Forever War the soldiers are used in a propaganda machine, where television airs synthesized interviews where the soldiers seem to say completely different things than they really told the journalists. In The Red the corresponding media exploitation is much subtler and the agenda much more difficult to identify. Recordings from surveillance cameras and from the equipment the soldiers are carrying edited and videos are shared virally on the internet ("the cloud"). But who is behind this, and why?

The war, then. The first thing James Shelley does in this book is to tell his linked combat squad what he thinks is the reason for war -- it is all arranged by the defense contractors, who need wars to make money. The leaders of these companies are known as dragons. They are really powerful and for the most part the life of normal soldiers are very far away from them.

Of course, Shelley is not exactly an ordinary soldier anymore.

The cyborg existence is another interesting part of this story. The way it is described really made me think about what constitutes a person, and how fluid the boundary is between external tools and parts of the body.

But don't worry, this is not only a smart and intellectually interesting book, there is plenty of action and mystery as well. And relationships, even a love story. I think this book would appeal to a much wider readership than just those who are attracted by it's cover.