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Germline (The Subterrene War) Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 2011
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"It takes real skill to lead readers into actually seeing, smelling, and hearing (and maybe even tasting) the realities of war." - James F. Kelly, for Wired.com
"McCarthy perfectly catches the attitudes of veterans among themselves and toward civilians--laymen, better--when they get back to the World." -David Drake (author, creator of Hammer's Slammers)
"Gritty and furious debut novel" and "a fantastic story of what war may become" -Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing
"Rapid-fire military sf adventure that explores the relationship between the runaway development of technology and biotech and the long-term consequences that ensue." -Library Journal
"A tour de force about a futuristic war and its aftermath." -SF Revu
"It's not often that a sci-fi military-thriller mass paperback will remind you of a Pulitzer nominee, but that's certainly the case with T.C. McCarthy's absolutely astounding literary debut Germline. Astute readers will also see a lot of Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway in this book" -Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
"Compelling debut," "a portrait of the effects of battlefield stress that is difficult to bear but impossible to put down," and "one of the best SFF novels of Fall 2011." - Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Brilliantly written...one of the most compelling science fiction books of the year. Germline is much more than a novel about a futuristic war." -Impact Magazine
It's not just good...it's the mil-sf book I wish I could send back in time to beat out Forever War for a Hugo. I never would have guessed McCarthy was an analyst...I was sure he'd been on the pointy end for a long time. - Ernest Lilley, SFRevu (Reviewer Emeritus), on Germline
From the Author
Germline: winner of the 2012 Compton Crook award!
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The U.S. is embroiled in a protracted battle for natural resources in a war fought underground in the trenches, mines and tunnels of Kazakhstan. Oscar Wendell is a washed out, strung out reporter given the rare opportunity to be embedded with the troops. It is perhaps his last chance at redemption and his eyes are blinking 'Pulitzer'. His plan: get in, get out, write the story of his life. Yet war proved short on glory and more cruel, more consuming, more parasitic, more destructive than he ever imagined. His battlefield experience, however brief, left Oscar unable to reconcile himself with the 'real world'. War has become the singlemost pervasive event in his life. It's become home -- not in the cuddly, safe sense but in a kind of perverse comfort of the familiar. The field of dead and dying bodies and minds has indelibly marked Oscar. He may not survive it, but he cannot live outside of it. He wants to live, but he can't get himself to leave.
The conflict is vicious and violent, both sides using a multitude of weapons. The most effective and dangerous weapon is the genetics -- engineered soldiers all constructed as females with an expiration date and the singular purpose of dying in battle. Yet some genetics broke the limits of their design. Man has a long history of imbuing artificial creations with human traits, yet is always surprised when those creations act more human than they intended, a perverse instance of the student surpassing the teacher. Oscar too has learned to look at the genetics in a different light.
This book is filled with shocking, emotional moments. I wept, yelled, cursed, shook my head in disbelief, protested, called on the gods. You will too unless you're an automaton. Maybe even then -- even genetics exhibit some human emotion after all. Yet Germline achieves all this without being sappy or preachy. The style is also at times nonlinear or not entirely cohesive. Some moments feel like they're presented in random flashbacks. I suspect that all this -- the approach and the tone -- are painstakingly deliberate. More importantly, it works-- mirroring an image of how broken minds process events and thoughts. Oscar's growing refusal to learn people's names emphasizethe fleeting nature of existence in the subterrene.
I will not presume to know what message, if any, T.C. McCarthy wanted to impart. I can only speak to what I sensed and derived from it. Germline reveals an extraordinary capacity for empathy. Pain and doubt were presented in all their gut-wrenching, gutter-scraping monstrosity. The characters' struggles with indifference, futility and fatalism were front and center. To a certain extent, all the soldiers -- human and germline alike -- are destined for death. All that's left uncertain is which will check out first -- the body or the mind. War is draining and continues to drain participants long after there's anything left to be coaxed out. I confess I'm not entirely content with the ending but I'm also not sure I can provide a satisfactory alternative so perhaps it's the appropriate ending after all.
Germline raises ten questions for every one it answers. I'm not implying the tale is open-ended or incomplete. It simply touches on so many issues endlessly debated in philosophy, science and religion, to name but a few. Oftentimes, the lessons of history are ignored. Victory becomes a goal in and of itself, without regard for the price to be paid and the consequences. Inasmuch as genetics lean toward humanization, humans are sometimes treated as no more than tools or weapons in the achievement of the collective's objective. Yet even in the darkest of places and circumstances, there are still stellar moments of virtue. Human beings are capable of much wonder and much gruesomeness. Therein lies the best part of this book: if you let it, you may just arrive at truly finding out where you stand on these issues or at least gain a greater understanding of its complexities. The tale may be speculative and science fiction, but the lessons may be very relevant indeed.