Like Billy Pilgrim from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Hurley’s protagonist, Dietz, becomes “unstuck in time,” bouncing from battle to battle in this brutal futuristic exploration into the meaninglessness of war and the legacies of corporate greed.
This book is full of such deliberate cultural references, beginning with the title’s allusion to the famously doomed charge during the Crimean War. Here, it’s also a nickname for the soldiers of the Corporate Corps who have a bad reaction to their deployments via teleportation, ending up not quite where—or when—they expected to go. Despite being neglected or abused by the corporations that run the devastated Earth, Dietz joined the corps (and unwittingly, the Light Brigade) in the war against Mars after that planet’s independent settlers apparently made millions of people disappear from São Paolo, all of Dietz’s family among them. When called to active duty, Dietz (gender unspecified for most of the book, but you’ll figure it out fairly soon) experiences missions out of sequence with linear time, losing and regaining comrades, ordered to perform morally dubious actions which don’t seem to lead to victory, and gradually collecting information that strongly suggests that the enemy is not whom Dietz was told it was. Does the war have an end? Is the future predetermined? Is Dietz trapped in a fixed but fractured loop of existence, or is there a means of escape? As always, Hurley (Apocalypse Nyx, 2018, etc.) is plausibly unflinching about the damage inflicted by the power hungry on those they delegate to carry out their schemes, but thankfully, she doesn’t leave her readers in utter despair, either.
A fascinating and brilliantly confusing journey that ultimately ends, as is appropriate, in illumination. Rereads will be both necessary and desirable.