Book Review: The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata

Book Review: The Red: First Light, Book 1, Linda Nagata

Science Fiction Thriller: The Red: First Light, Book 1, Linda Nagata


Lieutenant James Shelley is a very good soldier. He has a crack team and a lot of help. Cybernetic implants keep them connected to satellites, drones, and the latest intel. None of this explains the nickname one of his soldiers gives him: King David. For Shelley also has a strange, inexplicable instinct for trouble coming. For months he has been leading his team in a peacekeeping mission in sub-Saharan Africa, and not one of them has even been injured. It’s almost like a voice inside his head is telling him when and where there’s danger and how to avoid it.


Linda Nagata brings a vision of war merging with cyber technology and reality tv to her series The Red. In First Light we meet Shelley. He does not know it (at the beginning), but he is the subject of a reality tv documentary about the war. The feed from his ocular implants and from his other cybernetics is being fed to and edited by an unknown source. This unknown source may or may not be the voice he hears in his head sometimes, warning him of unseen dangers and protecting him and his troops from harm.


When a bomb levels their compound, a bomb he was warned was coming but Shelley did not react quickly enough, Shelley is injured and has his legs replaced with state of the art titanium cybernetic prosthetics. In the hospital we meet his girlfriend Lissa, an antiwar reporter friend Elliott, and Colonel Kendrick. When trouble comes to the shores of the US, these relationships grow in complexity and influence as Shelley and his team must tackle new enemies and face unthinkable challenges.


The Red: First Light is an exciting thriller of a book. It may be science fiction, but elements of it feel far to real. The power of defense contractors over the military and political spheres of America seems altogether too plausible. The vision of war being a game played with people’s lives for the enrichment of the war machine, a machine which arms both sides of the conflict, also feels far too plausible. And war as reality TV is already happening.


I am eager to read the rest of the series. Nagata has a terrific style. Her descriptions of war are very gripping, her characters develop throughout the book, and the relationships are organic and real–even when they are influenced by drug-infusing implants. The technology in the book feels like it is within reach right now–this is not the kind of speculative leap that posits faster-than-light speed or laser beams. This is enhancements to existing technologies, applications that might already be happening. In some ways that makes this book more disturbing.


Disturbing, but a really good read!


Book Review: The Red: First Light, Book 1, Linda Nagata

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