Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review - The Subterrene War 01 - Germline by T. C. McCarthy

The Subterrene War 01 - Germline
T. C. McCarthy
Orbit Books
373 pages
Publication date: August 1, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-12818-6


Germline, the first installment of The Subterrene War, by T. C. McCarthy is a cautionary urban-warfare epic of enormous scope. Take the HBO series Generation Kill, the blockbuster movie The Terminator, all of World War I & II, and the novel Embedded and blend them together with bio-cyberpunk-genetics, trench/tunnel warfare, and enhanced, futuristic weaponry and you have Science Fiction written for a new generation. In the very near future rare and precious metals are so expensive, so integral to technology, and so isolated by location that they are worth going to war over. In a world running low on natural resources and torn by conflict an embedded journalist from the Stars and Stripes, with heady dreams of winning the Pulitzer Prize, learns first-hand the brutality of war when he’s picked to accompany a military unit to the front lines. Once there he discovers that the war is being fought not only by normal soldiers but by genetically enhanced teen-age girls wearing smart armor and carrying weapons of beautiful design and incredible stopping power. Forced by circumstance to pick up a flechette rifle he transforms from an impartial observer to an unwilling combatant in a matter of seconds. And he knows instantly that no one will come out of this war unaffected by the death and devastation they’re about to experience.

Oscar Wendall, an embedded journalist with hopes that this assignment will propel him to prominence, becomes a combatant when a shortage of soldiers in the moments before an eminent attack leaves him no choice but to pick up a weapon and fight. But Oscar is having trouble writing about the war and his dream seems to be falling further and further from his grasp. The death, destruction, and overabundance of drugs he’s ingested won’t allow him the peace to write his masterpiece, either. In the process, Oscar is transformed from a journalist into a full-fledged civilian soldier with all the stigma that entails. At one point in the book I observed to myself that Oscar was just too damn lucky. Nobody goes through as many battles without suffering a wound as he does. (In reality many soldiers do make it through war without injury but at the time Oscar’s luck appeared almost too uncanny to be real.) He’s the only survivor of at least two battles and suffers no wounds during many fire-fights. But he does carry a lot of mental and emotional (even drug-related) baggage. Hell, he should have been admitted to the hospital a dozen times over. And then about three-fourths through the story Oscar is hit by plasma gas and suffers deep-tissue wounds to both legs. Fortunately, his friends are able to drag him from the front lines to a hospital. Fortunately, modern medicine has progressed enough that Oscar is able to recover from his wounds rather quickly. Unfortunately, the U.S. forces are almost surrounded by the enemy and Oscar still needs to track down the doppelganger of the genetically-engineered soldier he fell in love with on the front.

Germline is a war story, for certain, but not just any simple war story. It is a story of conflict over resources. It is a story of combat in the future and specifically of warfare between genetically enhanced super-warriors and normal soldiers. The war eventually lays waste to vast areas of the earth turning entire cities to scorched and burned ash. Overhead, droids drop shells filled with liquid plasma and below ground, tunnels (the subterrene) are injected with poisoned gas. Germline presents a solitary glimpse into an alternate future that is frighteningly realistic in scale. But, there is a universal theme here that pre-dates the earliest days of man and the first stone thrown in anger. This is a story of war and fear and mental illness and psychological stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and of drug abuse and addiction and the human condition. It is a cautionary tale of the frailty of life and it is nothing short of brilliant. McCarthy captures the emotions, complexities, and cold, hard realities of combat down in the trenches and gives the reader, though they may have never experienced war itself, an in-depth look at the harsh realities of taking life. Germline is an engaging, compelling, and quick read and I wholly recommend it to all fans of military Science Fiction, urban warfare, genetic manipulation, future combat, embedded journalism, and to those who simply wish to be entertained by an exceptional story.

Review copy provided free as part of the Amazon Vine program.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Subterrene War Series by T. C. McCarthy
The Subterrene War 01 - Germline (2011)
The Subterrene War 02 - Exogene (TBA)

Additional Reading:

Germline Cover Information

Exogene Cover Information

Official Author Page

Lou Ander’s Blog Germline Post

The Founding Fields Review of Germline

The Mystery and the Magic (Agent Blog)


Note: I’ve heard that the Subterrene War series will follow the lives of a different character in each book and the cover of the second installment seems to indicate that Exogene will include the story of one of the genetically enhanced female soldiers we first met in Germline. I look forward to keeping up with this intriguing and exciting series.

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