Wisdom of Sci-Fi: The Light Brigade

This weekend, I finished reading a book called The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley. The story is set in a futuristic war where soldiers are teleported to and from the battlefield.  Except the teleporters don’t always work right. For Private Dietz, this means she keeps getting teleported through space and time, and thus she ends up experiencing the whole war in the wrong order.

I loved this book.  Highly recommended!  There’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff.  Today I’d like to zero in on just one passage among the many that resonated with me:

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 benefits.  It’s those who believe in something larger than themselves of thrive.  We all seem to need a little bit of delusion to function in the world.

Is that too cynical?  Maybe.  Private Dietz is something of a cynical woman.  But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

To put it another way, I think pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  People who give up hope tend to stop trying, to stop fighting for anything better.  Maybe optimism is a survival mechanism, almost like an evolutionary advantage that keeps some people going when others would rather give up.

But being an optimist is not so easy.  Sometimes you have to make a conscious choice to believe things will work out okay.  You have to stubbornly insist that there’s still hope despite what seems like pretty compelling evidence to the contrary.

At least that’s been my experience, and (spoiler warning, sort of) somewhere in her personal timeline, maybe Private Dietz learned that lesson as well.

19 thoughts on “Wisdom of Sci-Fi: The Light Brigade

  1. I just finished reading “Leviathan Wakes” by James S A Corey. There was a similar sentiment expressed there. Something about how we had to consciously deny our own mortality, otherwise we would be unable to plan for the future. Makes sense. If we believe we’re going to die, or going to fail, or that there’s no point even trying, why bother doing anything?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funnily enough, Leviathan Wakes was the book I read right before Light Brigade. The two books definitely felt like they had something in common. Very different stories, of course, but there’s a spiritual kinship there. If you liked Leviathan Wakes, I’d say Light Brigade is worth checking out.


  2. Kind of reminds me of something from a Terry Prachett book, actually. In the discworld novel Hogfather, there’s a big fuss about the Hogfather (basically Santa Clause, with a pre-Christmasy mythos of being involved in boar hunts and the sun rising in winter) dying. The character Death points out to one of the (mostly) human characters that if the Hogfather dies, the sun isn’t going to rise on Hogwatch morning. She asks what would happen instead and his reply is, basically, that a big ball of fiery gas will be in such an orbit as to be visible, which is technically the same thing but crucially different in a way that’s very important to what it means to be human. Humans have invented all kinds of stories to make reality more comfortable and sensible for themselves — we’ve even managed to invent boredom, for heavens sake, in a cosmos where there is always something happening.

    Which in turn reminds me of Doug Adams’ “Total Perspective Vortex” from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I am such a sucker for dry English humor prose that tackles this kind of stuff, idek.

    Adding The Light Brigade to my reading list, because I also enjoy stories that mess about with time and space travel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read any Terry Prachett, but I do remember the total perspective vortex from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I know it was supposed to be torture, but I always kind of wondered what that experience would be like, to see the infinity of creation, or whatever it was Zaphod saw in there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think what he saw, because he was in a weird pocket universe created for the express purpose of Zarniwhoop (so?) being able to talk to him privately, was that the universe he happened to be in quite literally revolved around him. This jived with his inflated sense of self-importance and thus had basically no effect.

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