BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The world thinks former Lt. James Shelly is dead. He’s not. He’s just gone dark. Joining an elite team of similarly enhanced soldiers, he’s on the side of the AI known as The Red to stave off any and all existential threats to the human species. But what happens when The Red’s increasingly erratic behavior accidentally sets off a war that threatens everything he’s ever sworn to protect?
PROS: Crisp, clean prose; sympathetic characters; non-stop globetrotting action; a compelling mystery throughout; a tight ending to Shelley’s story.
CONS: Certain secondary characters appear randomly (and at times too conveniently); Important secondary characters from previous books only act in accordance with what the plot requires; the overall ending leaves a lot unresolved
BOTTOM LINE: If taken just as a continuation of the Red trilogy, Going Dark is fantastic, and a riveting technothriller that drags you through the pages. But, if seen as a series finale, it leaves something to be desired.
(Warning: minor spoilers ahead)
Going Dark picks up nearly two years after the conclusion of The Trials. To the world, Lt. James Shelley is dead. He’s walked away from his former life, cutting off contact with everybody he’s ever known and loved (including Jayne Vasquez and his former lover, Delphi), and joined an elite squad of enhanced soldiers tromping around the world getting into one black op mission after another at the behest of the AI known as The Red.
Linda Nagata doesn’t waste any time bringing the action in Going Dark immediately dropping the reader into the arctic cold with this new rag-tag team of super-soldiers. In her typical smooth (and nearly invisible) way, Nagata gets the reader up to speed on Shelley’s new world real quick. In fact, one of the continued joys of the Red trilogy has been the depth of layering present in Nagata’s world.
Now, while in the tundra, Shelley and his team accidentally spark an international incident involving the Canadians, Russians, Chinese, and Americans. In the aftermath of this operation gone sideways, Shelley is forced to face how such a thing could happen, after-all, their missions are designated by The Red itself (an AI keen on avoiding existential threats to the human species for a variety of reasons too complex to list here). The fear nagging at the back of Shelley’s mind is that The Red is not acting in its own best interest, almost as though there are competing factions within itself.
And that, in a nutshell, is the driving factor behind Going Dark. Different factions (whether that be corporations, governments, terrorist cells, or really rich people with too much time and money on their hands) are using localized AI’s to control The Red for their own gain. One of these AI’s in particular (in the hands of some middle-eastern terrorists) is blowing up satellites in near Earth orbit. A bad thing because now there’s a debris field up there destroying everything in its path.
What such things, you ask? Well, besides satellites, there’s also a concerted effort by some super-rich people keen to get off Earth, to send a colonizing mission to Mars. This subplot floats around in the ether, cropping its head up whenever convenient, but on the whole does nothing to actually drive the story forward. There’s some strain on Shelley’s relationship with his former Sergeant Jayne Vasquez, and his former handler/lover, Delphi, on account of this subplot. Mostly because Shelley is (irrationally) opposed to the idea of colonizing Mars, though it’s never really explained why he feels so strongly. In the end, it’s hard to take this aspect of the story seriously when he let both women operate under the pretense that he’s been dead for the last two years.
One of the key features of The Red and The Trials that I loved, was how Nagata created realistic and compelling secondary characters each acting as though they were the hero of the story. Unfortunately, Going Dark doesn’t do nearly as well in this regard as its predecessors. Sure, there are some interesting characters (a former Russian mobster by the name of Papa for starters), but on the whole, even the really awesome characters from earlier books seemed to be watered down/caricaturized version of themselves. In the grand scheme of stories out on the market, Nagata actually doesn’t do such a bad job here, but it’s noticeable by comparison with how high she set the bar earlier in the series.
Overall, I really enjoyed Going Dark. It has everything one looks for in an action packed, military thriller. Lots of twists and turns, action scenes galore, interesting tech used in a variety of novel ways, and a healthy amount of character development. All of these things were on full display as I blazed through the pages, but in the back of my mind there niggled the worry that Nagata wasn’t going to wrap up the over-arcing series narrative in a satisfactory way. The impetus for this worry was born from the fact that the Going Dark narrative—though tied into the series arc in certain ways—seemed to be asking more questions than it was answering.
Ultimately, the story ends in a semi-satisfying way for our series protagonist, James Shelley, but the larger worldwide narrative doesn’t. There are still a bunch of unanswered questions and I’m left with the sense that there should probably be another book (or a spin-off series as seen through the eyes of a different character) to resolve these issues. In fact, I hope Nagata dives back into this world in the future because there’s still so much fertile soil to be tilled.
If taken just as a continuation of the Red trilogy, Going Dark is fantastic. A riveting technothriller that drags you through the pages. But, if seen as a series finale, it leaves something to be desired. Either way, I highly recommend Going Dark and the Red trilogy to anybody looking for some amazing near future military SF.