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The Light Brigade

Book Notes

Okay, so, Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man's War. Classics in the citizenship / military commentary through science fiction genre. There are others in this genre, but these are the ones that come to mind. There is a strong likelihood that in upcoming years, The Light Brigade will be in that short list of classics in the genre.

Similar to The Three, this book follows a newly enlisted grunt, Dietz in this case, through basic training and the first hit of war, all while describing the world, the history, the conflict. Of course, we learn more of the motivations and history and dystopian nature of the world as the book progresses. Despite the grim beginning, the book has a "happy" ending (as well as a book about war can be "happy"), which I understand, even if most of my recent readings have far less ... uh, happy endings. Natch.

What we do have in this book is the commentary on the military, citizenship, human nature, war, corporations, capitalism, power, and, sure, socialism. Even Frank Herbert and Ayn Rand make entrances.

Several things make Hurley's world building so compelling in this book: the complete and total mis-visualization of who Dietz is (brilliantly done), the mind-f--- that the plot twists and turns through, and the way the story telling weaves with the commentary so subtly that you forget the philosophical commentary parts of the book (yes, yes, except for the three pages of in-your-face philosophy dump that pales in comparison with Galt's 50 page radio speech (which can be totally skipped if you ever do read that book)).

Enjoyed the book. Will gladly read more of Hurley's books, looking forward to them also. Recommended.

It happens sometimes; they can’t all agree on reality. Listening to the Big Six—when you’re allowed to get media outside your corp at all—is like listening to a bunch of nattering old people at a dinner party trying to remember some esoteric event from when they were kids. Everybody has a different memory. When they get frustrated, they start talking real loud, like that will make their memory more true.
Page: 9

There’s a fascinating course of study on the rise of fascist states that posits that they become more popular the more people fear death. And really, most corporate states are fascist, though they would have you believe they’re oligarchies, ruled by tables full of rich old people with humanity’s best interests at heart. The more fearful and out of control we feel, the more we look to some big man on a horse or a tank or a beam of light to save us. The survival of truly egalitarian societies requires—if not an absence of fear—then a harnessing of it.
Page: 67

There’s something that happens to you when you’ve been through the most grueling ordeal of your life with somebody. It’s like you’re closer than blood, after. Closer than family. There’s nothing else like it.
Page: 73

I kept my mouth shut and listened. Another good tip from my mom. People are always looking for reasons to imprison or kill ghouls. Stay quiet. Keep your head down. Be polite. They may still kill you anyway, but maybe they’ll kill the other guy first.
Page: 89

Darkness. It’s more comforting than you think, to be alone in the dark.
Page: 106

Kid I knew once called it the agony box. The Bene Gesserit. He was a funny kid, quoted a lot of Herbert. You know Frank Herbert? The litany against fear? I always found the litany more helpful than any meditation.
Page: 115

Yes, in the virtual box you know the torture will end at some point. Easier when you know it’s constructed. Easier to fight a constructed thing, especially if you’ve been taught how to survive real torture. No matter how real it all feels, you know that you will wake up from that nightmare and be whole again. You may have terrors, the shakes, after, sure. You might have to go through aversion therapy so you can function again in the real world. But you come out alive and intact. That’s how you can endure it. You know it ends. There’s a huge mental release in knowing there is an end to pain. A human being with hope can continue on far longer than one without. Did you know those who are mildly depressed see the world more accurately? Yet they don’t live as long as optimists. Aren’t as successful. It turns out that being able to perceive actual reality has very little long-term benefit. It’s those who believe in something larger than themselves who thrive. We all seem to need a little bit of delusion to function in the world. That belief can be about anything, too.
Page: 115

It’s important that we tell ourselves stories, Private Dietz. There’s a theory that consciousness itself begins with story. Stories are how we make sense of the world. All of us have an internal story that we have told ourselves from the time we were very young. We constantly revise this story as we get older, honing and sharpening it to a fine point. Sometimes, when we encounter something in our lives, or do something that does not match up with that story, we may experience a great sense of dissonance. It can feel as if you’ve lost a piece of yourself. It can feel like an attack on who you are, when the real world doesn’t match your story.
Page: 122

He reminded me of my brother, too handsome for his own good, bighearted, constantly trying to be a better human. There was no malice in how he spoke, just honest interest.
Page: 125

Everyone is owned by someone else. The resistance here wants to unshackle you, but that’s too frightening for most people. So what does that leave us? Free people who believe they are already free? They think they have chosen their servitude, and that makes them individuals, powerful. Freedom to work? Ha! Freedom to die on the factory floor, behind a desk, pissing in place because they don’t get bathroom breaks. Freedom to be fired at the whim of a boss bleeding you dry on stagnant wages you can only spend at the company store. But the choice of the whip or the chain is a false choice. Sometimes you have to leave people behind. They’re part of the old world. They aren’t capable of building something new. To build something new is to admit that the lives they lead aren’t what they believed. And to lose that belief . . . threatens their sense of themselves. The annihilation of beliefs is the annihilation of the self.
Page: 146

“You all right?” I asked Omalas, which was a dumb question. None of us were all right, but the silence frightened me. The silence invited me to think.
Page: 166

say? I have been fighting this war a long time. Once you begin to drop, time becomes a luxury, an outdated thing, like the idea of voting or equality or freedom that meant anything but freedom for the rich from the burdens they force the poor to carry for them.” It was the most I’d ever heard her speak. “Is that a quote from something?” She smiled without showing her teeth; a sad smile that never reached her flat black eyes. “No. Only a statement of truth.”
Page: 166

it. It’s funny, how sometimes you run so hard away from something that you find yourself exactly where you started.
Page: 175

What makes people believe this shit? I thought as I lay there listening. But it was easy, wasn’t it, when people were isolated. When information was scarce or siloed. People would believe whatever you put in front of them, if it fit their understanding of the world.
Page: 187

“Yeah. You sign up to fight a war. You keep fighting the war for the people next to you.
Page: 194

Corporations had been chipping away at the authority of governments for a century before the Seed Wars. They experimented with company towns, and then outrageous benefits for employees. As health care became more expensive, one didn’t even have to offer private transport and free meals. Simply helping pay the cost to cure grandma’s cancer was enough to ensure blind obedience. That’s how you keep them loyal. Foster distrust in the democratic governments that are actually accountable to them. Show them that only the corporations can save them from themselves.
Page: 209

“That’s the shit thing about systems. They get so ingrained . . . they can putter on awhile longer, even when you chop the head off. You don’t know you’re dead until six more steps down the road.”
Page: 210

Are you as old as your physical body, or as old as your memories?
Page: 220

When you are under the thumb of a corp, they own you. They say you have freedoms, choices. When your choice is to work or to die, that is not a choice. But São Paulo was no choice, either. It was a bad death, when this world was more than rich enough to ensure we could all eat, that no one needed to die of the flu or gangrene or cancer. The corps were rich enough to provide for everyone. They chose not to, because the existence of places like the labor camps outside São Paulo ensured there was a life worse than the one they offered. If you gave people mashed protein cakes when their only other option was to eat horseshit, they would call you a hero and happily eat your tasteless mash. They would throw down their lives for you. Give up their souls.
Page: 244

They made sure we had no good choices.
Page: 245

Why does anyone defect? Some defect for financial or personal freedom, certainly. For enough wealth, people will do anything. Others defect, simply, because they discover the world they believed they lived in proved to be false.
Page: 260

It was a small enough country that it was easy to restrict everything, to a far greater extent than any of the corps do now, even with our advanced surveillance and tracking systems. They were raised to believe their tiny spit of land ruled over by some doddering dictator was the center of the world. And you know what? It worked, mostly. For a long time. The war there was entirely a war of propaganda. The rest of the world worked to let the north know that there was another life beyond the one they knew. But there are always people who are more comfortable with what is certain and known than what is just . . . a promise. A what-if. The tipping point comes when you have nothing to lose. When you can’t stand it anymore. If your life is in danger, or your future is grim, then shit, why not defect? There’s nothing to lose. That’s the trouble with regimes that get too cruel. People need to feel like they have free will. They want to believe that nobody else is as free or happy as they are. If they aren’t citizens yet, well, shit, that’s their fault. They aren’t working hard enough. People disappear in the night, and you think, of course they must have done something wrong. Good people are rewarded. Bad people are punished. Many fought hard to get messages into the north, to share their own propaganda, and people defected, certainly. But only the very daring or the very desperate. The rest did not want to believe. This is something we don’t talk about . . . what happens when you are presented with a truth that contradicts everything you believe in? The widespread proliferation of information in the early days of the open knu, back when it was the wild net, should have made truth easier to find. But it turns out most of us don’t want truth. We want stories that back up our existing beliefs. Flood the world enough with information, and I will pick out only those bits that uphold the virtue and rightness of whatever corp I’ve been taught to love.
Page: 260

Sometimes, to save the world, you have to let it break. You let it break because even as it breaks, there will still be those who believe its demise impossible, even as they watch it disintegrate. Monsters do not die quietly, not the corporations, not the corrupt democracies and kleptocracies before them, and certainly not the monarchies, the feudal lords, the god-emperors, and the oligarchies. Most…
Page: 262

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Don’t tell me every revolution is peaceful. Revolutions rely on the tireless work of faceless masses whose lives mean so little individually that their names weren’t known to their movements even when alive. There is no bloodless revolution, only necessary revolution, when a system becomes so deeply broken you can’t affect change from the inside. When the system itself has become calcified so permanently that change is not possible . . . that is when the knives come out. I used to believe, as others did, that we could work within the existing system, that moderate change was possible. But when you take away the ability of the people to effect change within the rules of the system, those people become desperate. And it is desperate people who overthrow their governments. The corps tell us each individual should reap the profits of “their” hard work. But the reality is the corps made their fortunes on the backs of laborers and soldiers paid just enough to keep them alive. The…
Page: 262

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Any human power can be changed by human beings. That is a truth, a constant. Humans can’t build power structures that cannot be…
Page: 263

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They did not simply wait around for their governments to give them rights and freedoms. They demanded them. People should not be afraid of the corporations.…
Page: 263

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You’re a communist then. S: Let’s say I’m old enough not to be…
Page: 263

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Truth is a point of view. S: So says every…
Page: 263

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I pulled Prakash into my arms. Her eyes were already distant, the far-off look of someone retreating into death.
Page: 267

I backed out of the room. When I got into the hall, I realized my hands were shaking. When was the last time I tried to change anything in my life instead of just reacting to it?
Page: 287

Ordinary people would do anything for authority figures, as long as they could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
Page: 289

could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
Page: 289

Maybe I’d wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe the Martians destroyed the whole city, from here to the sea, because it made it easier to sign up. Made it easier to follow orders. Believing lies just makes everything . . . easier, when those lies prop up your worldview.
Page: 298

There’s a tremendous moment of dissonance, like leaving your body, when you discover that one of the core defining moments of your life is mostly a lie.
Page: 298

“It means we clear the area around the crater,” Andria said, “by any means necessary.” I had my rifle over my knees. I had just finished cleaning it and putting it back together. “Sir, does that mean lethal force? On our own people?” “They aren’t our people,” Andria said, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Most are paid protestors. We’re doing a job, just like they are. They were told to disperse or face force. They know what’s coming.” “They aren’t even armed,” Omalas said. “Some may be,” Andria said. “That’s why we have to clear them.
Page: 300

She’d put it on Captain V. Captain V would blame the lieutenant colonel of the battalion, who would blame the colonel of the regiment, who would blame the major general of the brigade, and up and up, until what happened tonight rested on the peacefully sleeping head of some CEO who would never get her hands dirty. Never see the blood pumping from a mortally wounded friend. Never watch the life leave the face of some poor dumb kid who believed the world could be a better place.
Page: 300

But the protestors had decent defensive tactics. They were not complete fools. They came equipped with homemade power-nullifying vests, pepper-spray triage kits, and they had painted their faces to evade the face recognition software in our heads-up displays. Drones surged through the sky, ours and theirs. I admired the janky little craft they employed against us.
Page: 301

They had made a beautiful world from the over-heated toxic desert we’d created, and we hated them for it, because they were free to create a better world. No one owned them.
Page: 319

They had made the land grow things again, but that was all they were supposed to do. They weren’t supposed to be free because no one is free, and they weren’t supposed to be able to defend themselves because no one can, not from the corps. The corps won’t allow it. The corps take care of you, as long as you give them everything.
Page: 319

“Do you think a lot about mortality?” she said. I had no idea where that had come from. “Now? Sure.” “What are your thoughts on it?” “I never thought much about dying when I first signed up,” I said carefully. It was a relief, I realized, to sit here with someone who believed me, even if I was just some test subject to her. But I wasn’t a thing. I was alive. “Nobody really does,” I continued, “even when you see your friends stuck inside walls, or watch their torsos bust open, or hold their guts in your hands. It takes a while to really get that it could
Page: 324

happen to you. You’re the hero of your own story. The hero doesn’t die, can’t die, because then the story ends.
Page: 324

“Even if you take an oath of vengeance. But you’re committing to fight the greater evil. It doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes do some evil yourself. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t sometimes fighting for the empire. It just means that in the end, you do the right thing.”
Page: 325

“All the claims you make follow a logical path,” I said. “It’s ‘I won’t, I can’t,’ but you have to make it to ‘I will. I will. I do.’ It’s powerful. That’s the power of volition. That’s the power we can tap into when we jump. When we become the light. What directs us, always, is volition.”
Page: 332

“Life is a grind,” she said. “Your best bet is to find people who will endure it with you.” I fist-bumped her. “Here’s to endurance.”
Page: 332

She was going to die. I was going to die. Tanaka was going to die. But until then—we’d live.
Page: 332

What is it with people’s memories? It has to be in their face constantly before they get it. Before they realize they can’t just look away and expect it to all be fine.
Page: 333

We forget that people are power. It’s why they work so hard to control us.
Page: 341

Your socialist democracy can’t survive on Mars. They never do. People succumb to fear, no matter the government. The everyday person doesn’t want war, but it’s remarkably easy to convince them. It’s the government that determines political priorities, and it’s easy to drag people along with you by tapping into that fear.
Page: 342

People can always be convinced to turn on one another. All you have to do is convince them that their way of life is being attacked. Denounce all the pacifist liberal bleeding hearts and feel-good
Page: 342

heretics, the social outcasts, the educated. Call them elites and snobs. Say they’re out of touch with real patriots. Call these rabble-rousers terrorists. Say their very existence weakens the state. In the end, the government need not do anything to silence dissent. Their neighbors will do it for them.
Page: 343

Ours. I suppose it’s an old story, isn’t it? The oldest story. It’s the dark against the light. The dark is always the easier path. Power. Domination. Blind obedience. Fear always works to build order, in the short term. But it can’t last. Fear doesn’t inspire anything like love does.
Page: 343

That’s what it is, with bullies. The things they do to you shape your life profoundly. But they often don’t even recall your face, let alone your name.
Page: 345

“Whatever’s busted in your life—you can use its pieces to make the life you want.” —Warren Ellis
Page: 353

I still believe in the military. I believe there’s sometimes a greater evil that must be vanquished. But more often than we’d like to admit, there is no greater evil, just an exchange of one set of oppressive horrors with another. Wars are for old people. For rich people. For people protected by the perpetuation of horrors on others.
Page: 353

The heroes were always the ordinary people who pursued extraordinary change. The power of the corrupt governments and entrenched corporations feels inevitable. No doubt so did the rule of the kings and landowners before them.
Page: 354

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