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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Life During Wartime

Copyright 1987 by Lucius Shepard

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Awful (1/5)

I first read this on the 28th August 2002.

In the near future, America, in the name presumably of liberty and the defense of freedom, is fighting a war in support of one side or the other in South America, the modern Vietnam.

It's a very messy conflict with soldiers taking combat drugs to boost their aggression and strength, the normal range of drugs just to relieve the boredom, and psychedelic drugs to wash it all away.

There's Psicorps, a telepathic CIA organisation, and other groups of powerful telepaths that are jointly inducing terror and wreaking havoc.

And in general, there is an increasing level of general insanity, caused partly by war, and partly as the repulsive Dr Izaguirre points out, as a side-effect of the psychic activity that serving to reestablish or reinforce delusional systems in those around.

David Mingolla is an American soldier down in "Free Occupied Guatemala" he and his fellows Gilbey and Baylor are having a hard time of it. It's when they get their R&R break that things really begin to go off the rails. David meets and falls in love with Debora, who's sadly on the other side in this conflict. but they'll continue a relationship of sorts, even when he's assigned to kill her.

The novel continues in the jungles of Guatemala and Panama as Mingolla moves through a series of episode such as:

  • an encounter with a gang of children living wild, brutal lives in the jungle
  • a psychedelic meeting with a jungle shaman
  • various encounters with deranged soldiers waging personal wars to satisfy their own separate fantasies
  • a computer in a wrecked helicopter deep in the jungle that believes it's God
  • erstwhile partners lose their minds ending as ruined soulless husks or dead, or both
  • his personal, horrifying, moral decay
  • learning that the war is being fought under false pretences (as wars normally are)

Oh and there's a lovely little anecdote about the purity of the determination of the Afghani people and their love of their land.

I loved "Green Eyes", wasn't so keen on "Kalimantan" and was hoping "Life During Wartime" would turn out to be pretty good. But it failed for me. I spent most of the book feeling this rich narrative tapestry building up and expecting that any moment I'd get dragged in and swept away. But it never happened, I never got engrossed and I don't quite understand how it failed. Well, actually I do understand: it's a little boring, and there's too much mixed up in there is largely irrelevant to the plot (about which I should say, I'm still a little unclear).

To tell the truth, if we're talking SF war stories, I preferred Haldeman's "The Forever War".

Loaded on the 31st October 2002.
Cover of Life During Wartime
Cover art by Mark Harrison