Recently, I had the chance to read two very different but equally kick ass science fiction novels by two brilliant women. Funny enough, they’re also both published by Saga Press, a relatively new imprint that has been producing some of the genre’s best novels over the past few years. So, cheers to Joe Monti and Navah Wolfe at Saga for their vision and taste.
Ancestral Night is chock full of great worldbuilding, supported by thematic explorations of politics, humanity, society, and individualism. Readers familiar with space opera will recognize the far-future web of intermingling galactic species, and the concept of an overall governing body connecting them—here, the Synarche—all is certainly not new, but Bear weaves together these disparate elements (Haimey’s antipathy to drugs and body mods, the Synarche’s underpinnings and their affects on the individualism of AIs, the logistical implications of species from planets with different atmospheres and gravities cohabiting) in ways that make them feel fresh. Rather than seeming like a jumble of SFnal ideas, the universe builds upon itself in believable ways
I followed that up with Kameron Hurley’s equally impressive, but much bloodier, The Light Brigade which is sure to make waves this year, and has the potential to become the next great Military SF classic alongside Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Haldeman’s The Forever War.
On the backs of authors like Heinlein, David Weber and John Ringo, Military SF, a genre that has a history of political and social conservatism, has traditionally been considered the dominion of men. Hurley, alongside writers like Elizabeth Moon, Tanya Huff, and Linda Nagata, is proof that not only is that a false narrative, but that Military SF can be aggressive, exciting, and bloody while also maintaining a progressive, critical opinion of war. And this is, perhaps, my greatest requirement for Military SF: these coming-of-age stories should be critiques of war. They should analyze the opportunity cost of war, and examine the short- and long-term social effects—otherwise they run the risk of becoming little more than glorified pew pew war porn. Perhaps such books have their place, but not for this reader. Haldeman’s The Forever War was a sharp critique of Vietnam. Old Man’s War, on the other hand, examines individualism and mortality within the larger war narrative. In The Light Brigade, Hurley rips into war’s many complex facets, while also showing how Dietz is affected on a personal level. Never does it trade its thematic explorations for character development or vice versa—they are one and the same.