The novel “Going Dark” by Linda Nagata was published for the first time in 2015. It’s the third book of The Red trilogy and follows “The Trials“.
James Shelley dropped everything to join an unofficial and unrecognized team conducting covert operations to thwart possible global threats. Their targets are indicated by the Red, which is supposed to provide the information needed to hit targets most effectively.
When a mission turns out to be full of unexpected events, Shelley and his team find themselves in a complicated situation. What is supposed to be a laboratory where they develop biological weapons seems to have very different purposes. Troubles at the team’s escape route lead to serious consequences that leave doubt about the Red’s intelligence. It’s evidence that the Red can’t be trusted.
The final book in the Red trilogy further expands the story told in the first person by James Shelley. After the centrality of the political element in the second book, the third is focused on the military science fiction element, developed by Linda Nagata in her own way. This means that there are missions full of action and dangers for the characters and much more.
Ethical and moral themes have been included in the Red trilogy from the beginning in various ways, connected to the different parts of the future society developed by Linda Nagata. In “Going Dark”, they are tied to James Shelley’s team’s missions in what he calls a non-linear war. It’s an unconventional warfare in which the fight is not between nations but between factions that are not limited by geographical borders with alliances that are formed and broken all the time. It’s not really a sci-fi scenario, in the sense that there are real situations Linda Nagata drew inspiration from.
In all this, the Red remains in the background and this is sometimes disappointing. Shelley discusses the nature of this artificial intelligence several times with other characters, but even in the end there are more doubts than certainties. The ambiguities existing even in the team’s missions are somewhat inevitable in a first-person story where the reader knows what the narrator knows. Shelley discovers only part of the truth and has suspicions about other parts but his knowledge of everything connected to the Red remains partial.
Shelley’s personal story also remains somewhat incomplete with a trilogy ending that doesn’t exactly wrap it up. Perhaps, Linda Nagata wanted to leave that story still open to possible other books but this can leave some readers with some dissatisfaction.
In a novel where the action is sometimes the main element, the many ethical and moral ambiguities that marked the entire trilogy remain. James Shelley is the first to wonder if he’s fighting for the good guys and doubts about the Red only increase those ambiguities. He and the other members of his team are supposed to face what in the novel are called existential threats but what happens in the initial mission shows how their actions can have complex ramifications.
At the end of the trilogy, the fact that the answers are limited can be OK in the sense that Linda Nagata created a future scenario inspired in many ways by the present and the recent past in which ordinary people know only a part of the events that is made public. Everyone must decide how much they can trust official statements and imagine what secret actions were carried out by governments and factions that may be more or less influential. In my opinion, “Going Dark” is an imperfect trilogy finale but if the previous books made you think, I think this one is also worth reading.