In a not-too-distant future, war is waged between the superpowers of the world for mineral resources. Oscar Wendell, a reporter for Stars and Stripes, heads for the front lines in search of a story and a Pulitzer. The front lines of the war turn out to be in tunnels hundreds of meters below ground where soldiers accompany engineers who scrape for whatever ores they can find.
Key to fighting the battle are the genetics – genetically engineered soldiers. On the American side, all genetics are female while the Russians have males who appear to be little more than boys. Genetics are distrusted and feared, no matter whose side they are on.
This is Germline, the debut novel of T.C. McCarthy. The story is told from Oscar’s viewpoint and we quickly learn he is a man who is far from a saint. In addition to his desire to do anything to get the story, he’s also a drug addict. There’s almost a Hunter S. Thompson vibe to the way he tells the story.
I’m not a big fan of Thompson and I’ll admit that this and Oscar’s behavior did, for a while, turn me off him as a likable character. It’s one thing to make bad or ill-informed decisions. It’s another thing to be hell-bent on self destruction. However, this does pay off and I’m extremely happy that I kept reading. Events change Oscar’s perspective and behavior and there’s a new forward push, a desire to escape the war. McCarthy does the job well enough that I was rooting for Oscar in the end.
And that’s one of the things that makes Germline so readable. Oscar is able to tell the story and it’s his story. For Oscar, the war doesn’t exist outside of the immediate bubble of him and his few colleagues. War is chaotic and survival is all that matters. After a while, Oscar is no longer a reporter but simply part of the war. Germline becomes a story of growth as Oscar tries to find out who he is.
As mentioned earlier, Genetics (aka G’s) play an important role in the war. For all their superior fighting skills though, the human soldiers in the war hate the G’s, even their own. They are considered abominations, unstable tools of war and we are frequently treated to scenes of humans gunning down G’s on their own side. Of course, with this in mind, it’s inevitable that Oscar becomes involved with a genetic.
Germline is the first book in the Subterrene War trilogy and gives us a solid footing in this new world. The novel’s teaser claims ‘Some technologies can’t be put back in the box’. The genetics are both a key focus and yet, barely touched in the story outside of a personal level. A brief excerpt from the second novel promises a much larger focus on the genetics and I’ll be eager to see what McCarthy can do with them.
McCarthy’s real life experience with the CIA and in the bio-tech field lend Germline a solid and realistic nature. Nothing seems implausible (one can pick up not so subtle comparisons to the modern day thirst for oil) which makes the story all that much more powerful.
Gritty and furious debut novel, Germline is not for everyone – I’ll admit that. It can be hard to read and it is most definitely dark. But it is a fantastic story of what war may become. US readers can pick it up on July 26th and the rest of the world on August 4th.