While Linda Nagata’s The Red trilogy starts off a bit shakily, it eventually settles into a nice rhythm as it tells an entertaining story of near-future military SF. It follows the exploits of Lieutenant James Shelley, the leader of a “Linked Combat Squad” of soldiers who, as the story opens, are deployed in Africa to fight an insurgency. Equipped with heavy armaments, powerful exoskeletons, and highly advanced telecommunications, the LCS fight for survival—and the cynical motivations of their military overseers—using numerous technological advantages to stay one step ahead of the enemy. But Shelley also possesses a more mysterious advantage: a voice in his head that helps him make crucial, split-second decisions in the field. As it turns out, the voice is just one of many external forces that has a grip on Shelley’s fate, as he’s propelled into conflict with global conspiracies and technological mysteries.
The narrative of The Red: First Light feels shapeless in the early stages, as the nebulous details of the conflict propel a number of action sequences that lack emotional punch. Towards the end of the first section, however, Nagata introduces some interesting twists and thought-provoking science fictional concepts, which make the subsequent chapters more compelling. Ultimately, the book focuses more on hard-nosed action than on its broader SFnal ideas and geopolitical worldbuilding; I would have preferred the opposite. But overall, it’s a bracing mix of post-cyberpunk and techno-thriller fiction, and a solid example of futuristic SF that serves as an illuminating reflection of the present.