The novel “The Trials” by Linda Nagata was published for the first time in 2015. It’s the second book of The Red trilogy and follows “The Red: First Light“.
Lieutenant James Shelley and his Apocalypse Squad returned to the US to face the consequences of their choices during the First Light mission. The court-martial is the most important news, and that’s a big deal in a nation shaken by continuous attacks that have also devastated the economy.
The court-martial is supposed to assess the work of the Apocalypse Squad with impartiality. How can a judge accomplish that kind of task when there are political interests that go up to the president of the USA and important parts of the events are covered by secrecy such as those related to the artificial intelligence known as the Red?
“The Trials” continues the story that began in “The Red: First Light” by recounting the aftermath of the first book’s events, so you need to read it to understand the story and the characters. From the very beginning, the military science fiction element was used by Linda Nagata to show a future that is near and easily understood with issues that are important today.
The members of the Apocalypse Squad have become celebrities in spite of themselves. The public is split between those who consider them heroes and those who consider them traitors. This situation is used by Linda Nagata to develop some of the central themes of “The Trials”. The novel was published in 2015 and in some ways is even optimistic about the evolution of media thinking about the emergence of influencers on social media.
An interesting element concerns James Shelley’s reflections as he tells his story in the first person. He’s not a spotless hero but has doubts and uncertainties regarding his actions. In particular, he often wonders about how much he’s influenced by the Red, the artificial intelligence he has long felt as a sixth sense helping him in difficult situations.
James Shelley’s reflections broaden the ethical and moral issues already addressed in “The Red: First Light”. He and the rest of the Apocalypse Squad had to make tough choices knowing that even in the best-case scenario, the consequences would affect them for the rest of their lives. They have to make more of them, sometimes linked to their integration with the technologies used by soldiers.
Technological developments, in particular the direct interfaces between computers and the human mind, are important, and it’s no coincidence that Linda Nagata is considered a member of the so-called nanopunk movement, which uses that element a lot. However, the way in which those technologies are used is much more important than their characteristics.
“The Trials” offers a broader insight into the interests of the lobbies that hold the real power in the US. Intrigues, deceptions, corruption, and power clashes are important elements of this novel and are told by Linda Nagata through the protagonist’s cynical eye. These elements are central in particular in the first part, which concerns the court-martial.
The pace is a bit slow in the first part, also because James Shelley is isolated pending court martial. However, there’s tension because it’s clear that the sentence will have serious consequences and not only for the Apocalypse Squad. After the end of the court-martial, the pace accelerates with a lot of action and events also around the protagonist.
Like the first novel, “The Trials” has an ending but it’s open with a situation where there seems to be no rest for James Shelley. What I think is a good development of the themes continues with more food for thought, so I recommend reading it.