'The Light Brigade' Is One of the Year's Best Books, So Why Does Kameron Hurley Still Have a Day Job?
A few weeks ago, I started noticing a novel called The Light Brigade show up repeatedly on my Twitter timeline along with rave reviews. Sci-fi novels aren’t really my thing, but it kept popping up over and over again until I finally relented. FINE. I’ll read it. So I get the book, I start reading it, and then I dumbly realize that all the raves for The Light Brigade were actually retweeted by the author, Kameron Hurley, who I had never in my life heard of. Who is this person, and why am I following her, I wondered. Has Twitter started auto-following accounts they think I might like? (Because, it turns out, I really did like her tweets.)
Anyway, I read the book, and I loved it. Then I realized that our own Professor Wilson had suggested I follow Hurley on Twitter a few weeks prior, not because of her sci-fi work, but because of her political tweets. I reported this funny anecdote back to Steven, and it turns out that Kayleigh is also a huge fan of Kameron Hurley, and the two of them pointed me toward a couple of articles that retroactively helped inform my thoughts on The Light Brigade. The first is “Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative,” which is one of the best Professor Wilson articles not written by Professor Wilson I have ever read, and it’s basically how language has been used to erase the historical contributions of women to combat in war. Here’s a passage:
When we talk about war, we talk about soldiers and female soldiers.
Because this is the way we talk, when we talk about history and use the word “soldiers” it immediately erases any women doing the fighting. Which is it comes as no surprise that the folks excavating Viking graves didn’t bother to check whether the graves they dug up were male or female. They were graves with swords in them. Swords are for soldiers. Soldiers are men.
It was years before they thought to even check the actual bones of the skeletons, instead of just saying, “Sword means dude!” and realized their mistake.
Women fought too.
This is relevant to The Light Brigade because it’s a sci-fi novel about a soldier fighting a war against Mars. Her name is Dietz. And holy shit, is it good. And again, I’m not the audience for this: I like contemporary literary fiction, mystery thrillers, coming-of-age novels, politics, and history. And that’s the thing about The Light Brigade: It is a sci-fi novel about a war fought between the Earth and Mars, but it’s really a novel about the dangers of capitalism, about how corporate America turns us into mindless soldiers willing to sacrifice our lives for the one percent. It’s also about politics, about how our leaders create divisions and then exploit those divisions to maintain their power. About how, by taking everything away from us, corporations can command our loyalty by offering us basic necessities in exchange for fighting their wars, which generate profits.
Oh, but here’s the kicker: It’s wrapped in this fantastic sci-fi premise about how soldiers are “blinked” to Mars to battle aliens, who are really just humans who resisted their corporate overlords and escaped Earth. By virtue of living on Mars for generations, they have been othered by Earth’s Big Six corporations (yes, it’s also a metaphor for immigration and colonization. Petr would flip out). But there’s very much an Edge of Tomorrow-like wrinkle here, too, because when Dietz “blinks” (which basically means transported at light speed as particles), she keeps blinking into different timelines, so she’s not fighting the war chronologically. It was hard for me to keep all the time travel in my head, but 1) it is logically sound, and 2) not that important except to illustrate that Dietz knows things about the end of the war that she can apply to situations earlier in the war.
Point is, it’s a brilliant sci-fi novel in all the ways that a brilliant sci-fi novel should be, which brings me to the second article that Kayleigh pointed me toward, a 2017 piece Kameron Hurley wrote that transparently outlined how much she earned as an author. Spoiler: Not very much. Double spoiler: Most of her income came from Patreon. This is insane because Kameron Hurley has written five novels, a non-fiction essay collection, a lot of short-fiction work, she’s won a Hugo Award, and she’s been shortlisted for an Arthur C. Clarke award, and yet … she earned $16,000 from book payments and royalties in 2017. It’s also why Kameron Hurley still has a day job, which is absolutely criminal for anyone who can write a book as entertaining and thought-provoking as The Light Brigade. It is a blast.
Anyway, The Light Brigade is not typically the kind of novel we’d devote an entire post to on Pajiba because it doesn’t concern Elizabeth Holmes or Stephen King or the daughter of Steve Jobs or Red State/Blue State culture wars. It’s also not the kind of review that generates many page views, which I suppose is the exact goddamn problem with trying to promote a book not written by J.K. Rowling or that doesn’t include an “iconic tampon scene,” but goddamnit, Kameron Hurley is fantastic and if you can’t promote good work what the hell is the point of a site like this anyway?
Also, follow Kameron Hurley on Twitter. Check out the reviews of The Light Brigade on Goodreads, if you don’t want to take my word for it. Also, here’s an excerpt. And buy the damn book, even if you have to do so through one of the Big Six, like Amazon or Audible (which is owned by Amazon). And after you devour it, check out Hurley on Patreon, because she’s fantastic.
Header Image Source: Saga Press
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