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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2011
I first heard about Germline quite a while ago, and I've been eagerly awaiting a chance to read it. As soon as it arrived in the post, I put aside the novel I was about to start, and dove right in. I'm glad I did - Germline is an intense, bizarre, and engrossing ride along with a man who is spiralling into his own private hell amidst what can only be described as a hell on earth (yes, he's pretty unlucky...). It's different to any other science-fiction I've read, and I will certainly be following the trilogy closely and eagerly.

Hyper-realism crashes with more surreal scenes of manic activity and Wendell's slipping mind, as he tries to find a balance between keeping on top of what's happening to him and his desire to numb everything away. McCarthy has mentioned Michael Herr's book on Vietnam (Dispatches) as a favourite read, and you quickly get the impression that the author has done a great job of evoking the chaos of warfare, and the emotional and psychological damage extended exposure to it can have on the soldiers and support staff. We're not meant to be comfortable. This is not a novel of whimsy. It's not pretty. It's grim, dark and brutal. And it's damned good.

Oscar "Scout" Wendell is a drug addict, who believes his path to journalistic redemption lies through reporting from the front lines of the war. He's the first civilian to be granted this opportunity, and he doesn't quite do the job that was expected. He embeds with a unit, grows close to its sergeant and quickly becomes addicted to "zip", a frontline drug that suits his tastes perfectly, disconnecting him from reality in a way that can only be described as dangerous in the extreme. His decline and ordeal is relentless, depressing and written in a brisk, choppy prose style which kept me reading into the night. The novel actually spans quite some time, but due to Wendell's state of mind, his - and therefore the reader's - perception of time is fractured.

Reading Wendell's story as he tells it (the narrative is first person) is often uncomfortable, as we really get inside his head. He lets down those around him, disappointing even those who give him every chance to make himself better, to get help and stop running away from himself and putting himself into harms way. The first half of the novel sees him spiral out of control until a moment of solitude forces self-reliance on him, which opens up the second act - that of his redemption (of a sorts). Addicted to the chaos of the conflict and warzone, Wendell avoids attempts by others to ship him home, and we witness his transition from rookie warzone reporter, a danger to others as well as himself, to a jaded old-hand. Still a danger to himself, of course, but also a font of advice for the next bunch of rookies. It's not a role he cherishes or ever sought, but there are moments when you can appreciate and, perhaps, even admire the way he helps some of the new recruits and draftees (some of whom are only fifteen years old), as he finds a new direction and purpose for himself in the crucible of this future war.

Wendell's co-stars are presented in an interesting and novel manner. Without giving away too many details, Wendell slowly comes to dislike learning people's names - the increased anonymity perhaps further insulating him from the crushing sense of loss that a dead friend will evoke. A rookie who attaches himself to Wendell is referred to simply as "Kid" and another simply as "the Brit". General Urqhart, one of the few named cast members, is a strange benefactor for Wendell, taking it upon himself to help Wendell both dry out and also stay alive. Urqhart's almost as mad as our protagonist, only he doesn't have the drugs to blame, and his madness comes more from his apparent thirst for glory and supreme attachment to the men under his command. The genetically enhanced fighters, all women, are a fascination for both Wendell and the reader: they are created solely for killing, yet are physically almost angelic - all of them are female, and they are `decommissioned' on their eighteenth birthdays. Wendell has some rather strange experiences with the genetics, and there is a heart-wrenching moment mid-way through that only highlighted the tragedy of the genetics.

There are scenes of the novel that would be perfectly at home in Apocalypse Now, if only the Vietnam War had taken place in a snowy country - the intense combat scenes, the stifling and nerve-wracking hurry-up-and-wait life of a frontline grunt, and the reality disconnect that doesn't only manifest in Wendell. A fair bit of this is pretty weird, but it's fascinating. We learn of everything as and when Wendell does, so there aren't any info-dumps or long passages of exposition to slow the plot. It's the novel equivalent of learning-while-doing, and you've got to hit the ground running, become familiar with the lingo and slang of the front (which isn't too difficult), otherwise Kaz will swallow you whole. Wendell's unique civilian classification through the novel allows McCarthy to give readers a well-rounded view of the war at large, as he is rotated out of certain areas (sometimes because everybody's dead) and into entirely new situations and dangers, experiencing quite a broad selection of warzone professions.

This review paints a pretty bleak picture of Germline's story, and this is certainly intentional. However, it is not entirely dark, as there are elements of the story that evoke a sense of hope for the reader. For example, there are a few moments of surprising generosity among the madness - simple things, like tanks or transports stopping to give people lifts - that gives one hope for humanity surviving even these hellish times and places. In addition, Wendell's story includes a love element, which is at once touching and also a little messed up.

The war is over resources (specifically, rare earth metals), which is all too believable - after all, most of the world's deposits of these extremely important minerals are in inhospitable climates or unstable and/or unfriendly regions today (the minerals are essential to most modern-day technology and electronics, and China has the largest confirmed deposits in the world). Potential resource wars are a top concern among international relations experts, which gives the issues underlying the novel an all-too-real feel.

This is a novel that is difficult to "enjoy" in the sense that to say one enjoyed it would suggest you're quite callous - McCarthy's protagonist is put through emotional and physical hell in the novel. Instead, it may be better to say that readers will "intensely appreciate" the novel (thanks to Justin Landon via twitter for this phrase). The infrequent moments of humour in the novel are pretty black, but also well-placed that you smile or chuckle despite the often bad events that led to the aside or observation.

Visceral, brutal, intense and engrossing. It's quite the read, from an interesting new voice in the genre. Germline is definitely highly recommended.

Also try: Dan Abnett, Embedded; Michael Herr, Dispatches; Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon; Simon Morden, Equations of Life; Gavin Smith, Veteran
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on 5 September 2011
T.C. McCarthy's debut science fiction novel is one I paid very little attention to until the opportunity arose for me to get my digital paws on an electronic advance reading copy of the novel. I went in as close to without expectations as I'm ever likely to and the reading experience close to blew me away. Literally. The dark, oppressive and uncomfortably personal story of journalist Oscar Wendell, I'll admit, put me off a bit at first. Given the choice, I'll more often choose a novel that concentrates on levity than one distinctively dark. But once past an initial discomfort - something which, in retrospect, amounted to a sort of acclimatization to the very particular nature of the novel - McCarthy's stark prose and the brutal honesty of Wendell's tale drew me in and dragged me along for an intense, but very rewarding read.

In a future where wars are not at all fought like they are now, Wendell, journalist for the Stars & Stripes, is given the opportunity of a life time to experience the ongoing resource war between the United States and Russia from the frontline. McCarthy takes us deep into the trenches, tunnels, bunkers and command centers of that futuristic war-zone as well as deep into the character of Oscar Wendell. Life scarred even before putting on any battle suit, we watch Oscar battle through the actual fighting, but more interestingly through drug addiction, depression and all the other emotional torments brought on by war.

T.C. McCarthy calls on his own heart-wrenching life experiences to add life to Germline's characters and attach an undeniable authenticity to the events depicted within. It would be difficult for me to recommend this novel to every and all science fiction fan, but those willing to dig a little deeper into Oscar's immensely damaged personality and a little deeper into their own psyche will find this to be a hugely engaging and rewarding novel. But having created one of a the most veracious portrayal of warfare in any modern science fiction (or any fiction) I have read, it's safe to say the McCarthy has won a hard-fought right to be on your bookshelves, so others should definitely also give him a try. I'll certainly be back for more when the second volume in the `Subterrene War' trilogy, Exogene, is released next year.
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on 26 September 2011
This isn't my usual cup of tea, but I got chatting to the author online and decided to try his book out. There followed about a week of eating my meals (my reading time) while saying "oh my God, oh my God" over and over again in between mouthfuls.

As another reviewer mentioned, this isn't for everyone. While there are lighthearted moments, they are VERY few and far between. This is a deep look into how the human mind adjusts to terrible situations and how, even in the depths of fear and misery, friendship and love remain and can even blossom. Oscar Wendell is not the most likeable of characters, but you go from wanting to see him get blown up to wanting to see him make it out alive.

McCarthy has done a brilliant job with this book and I, for one, will be looking out for his next one.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 February 2012
'Germline' is the first book in T. C. McCarthy's series 'The Subterrene War'. Set in the twenty-second century, the world of the novel is a plausible extrapolation from our own time. Resources have become increasingly scarce, and are ever more obviously the real causes and prizes of war. The United States is still fighting its wars abroad - in this case, across the Central Asian republics - and the immediate enemy is a Russia that is no longer so much an ideological opponent as a simple economic and military competitor.

Advances in weapons technology have made surface warfare increasingly unsurvivable for unarmoured humans and even for their cloned, physically augmented auxiliary troops. Much of the fighting has assumed an almost medieval character - fought in tunnels deep underground, away from the autonomous drones and the plasma bombardments. Into this cauldron of war ventures Oscar Wendell: a rich kid with a heavy drug addiction who has burned his boats at home, and sees a chance for redemption in war journalism.

McCarthy has the background in biological science and military analysis to give his vision of the future of geopolitical warfare the ring of credibility. As a writer, he's a cut above the generic authors of military SF. He gives the impression of having been strongly influenced by the journalists and writers of the Vietnam period, and not just by Joe Haldeman; certainly anyone familiar with Michael Herr's 'Dispatches', the writing of Philip Caputo and Tim O'Brien, and Stephen Wright's 'Meditations in Green' will find powerful similarities of tone. Like these writers, McCarthy is trying to render the whole experience of warfare - in particular, the way in which terrible personal experiences cannot prevent war from becoming a kind of home.

The book does have weaknesses. The romantic sub-plot is too sentimental for my taste, and the ending a little improbable - certainly compared with the conviction with which McCarthy handles the relationships between his male characters. Some readers may find the time spent detailing Oscar's drug experiences excessive. The scenes of military action are competently handled, but perhaps too similar in character. Nonetheless, 'Germline' has real virtues, and is unusual among American military SF in taking a disillusioned view of the motives of senior military personnel and politicians, and the naivety and callousness of civilians who are content to see the wars that keep them in relative luxury fought at a distance by troops created for the purpose and discarded without compunction. I look forward to reading the second book in the three-book series, 'Exogene'.
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on 16 August 2011
There is something I like with war correspondents. This is the second book about one this year that I have been impressed by.

Oscar Wendell is down on his luck addicted to drugs but assigned to be the first reporter allowed to the frontline when the story starts. I have seldom read a story so gritty and painfully realistic about war as this one given of course it is military science fiction.

In the near future wars are fought over metals in the earth crust. The soldiers fight deep underground to protect miners and no one fight more fiercely than the genetics or the Gs as they are called here.

We follow Oscar on a personal journey through different battlefields as he is changed by battle and strife. It is so intense and emotional at times that I can believe myself being there feeling what he feels.

The Gs on the US side are all female so there is the obvious and welcome love connection for Oscar but not without its problems as these soldiers have been created with a best before date and feed a belief system making themselves want to die on their 18th birthday. At first only the US forces have Gs but that soon changes as does the success in the war.

Not all the action takes place underground. We get to experience war from many different sides before the satisfying conclusion. Even though it is mostly about the characters Germline has some interesting technologies and gadgets. Like the battle armor and plasma grenades.

Germline is the first in a trilogy of standalone books that view the Subterrene war from different points of views. The next one Exogene is about one of the Gs and it will be out in March next year.

T. C. McCarthy impresses the hell out of me with this hard-hitting debut. Germline is a gritty and painfully realistic military science fiction that can stand on its own against the best in the genre. It is dark but also very personal up close. If you have the slightest interest in war stories you should read this.
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on 6 February 2013
An extremely intense, gritty ride through a futuristic war with the Russians over metals underground.
Our chief protagonist battles through drug addiction and an over whelming need to find love in war struck Kazakhstan. A fairly short book at 350 pages but a quick read as you cannot put this book down.
Told in first person, you really get into the head of the reporter Oscar Wendall as he goes through emotional and physical hell in positions where people seem to get blown away around him - yet he miraculously survives the many encounters he finds himself in and makes it back home.
A highly recommended military sci-fi novel that is set not to far in the future and I will definitely be on the look out for the second novel of the proposed trilogy.
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Science Fiction is a genre that encompasses a whole range of subjects and is almost as widespread as the universe itself. So when an author writes a title it's pretty much like Forest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates as you're never quite sure that you're going to get.

What TC McCarthy does in this, his first title is bring a novel that is part Joe Haldeman, part Sven Hassel and of course a story of survival as we fight for scraps of resources' by shedding lives as if they were worthless. Its dark, it has a huge body count but it's the characters that keep you coming back for more as you hope that many of them survive against the odds. Add to this a decent authorly voice that is pretty unique, decent prose and a breakneck pace and it allows the full depth of the war to eek into the readers brain as they seek the solace of the quiet moments to reflect upon what has gone before. Finally add to this a wonderful sense of character development with Oskar and overall it's not only a solid outing for a new author but an excellent start to a writing career. I really will look forward to seeing what TC comes up with next.
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on 16 March 2012
I started off disliking this book as I found it very hard to get used to the author's writing style. Also the explanations of the surroundings and position of the main character were hard to follow. Therefore building a picture of the world and environment was difficult to say the least.

But I perervered and am delighted I did, as the ability of the author to build such a complex character and describe him in this viscious and brutal environment was amazing. My opinion about the faults in his writing was blown away by the creativity and story building that took over.

In summary, although the book was hard to get into any fan of war books should read this and anyone who thinks war is glamorous.....

As for the author how he produced such a vivid account of war even with his experience is beyond me.
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on 18 October 2014
This is the first book in a series that falls under the category "Military Science-Fiction". There are all sorts of military science-fiction and T.C.McCarthy has chosen to join the group that focus on how horrible war is and how it affects people.

In this effort he has probably been inspired by the Vietnam War and the commonly given picture in films and books about the pointless of it all, the use of drugs among soldiers, the friction between commanders and the grunts, the confusion, the low morale etc etc. The Problem is that he is writing about a future war between Russia and the US (with some allies), located in Central Asia and fought in a very High Tech fashion. It just don't add up.

Our "hero" is a civilian journalist who is also a drug addict. He has a lost of personal problems. For the first 190 pages we follow him in his by drugs confused state of mind as he stumbles from one place to another and somehow survives one battle after another. All soldiers he meets are drug addicts, confused beyond any reasonable level, de-moralized, fatalistic, suicidal etc. They frequently kill each other or their commanders and all have that famous thousand yard stare. Most of them have a few weeks of training before ending up in the Army or in the Marines in Central Asia.

In his effort to show us the horror of war T.C.McCarthy tries so hard that he instead creates an absurd situation that lacks in credibility. It is as if the US Army from Vietnam (as pictured in a lot of media) would try to fight Desert Storm.

Of course most of the book is presented trough the drug haze of our journalist so what is real and what is not is difficult to know.

The technology that is presented is a mix of some in the future expected items as drones, genetically modified soldiers etc but also with a part of WWII. Russian artillery has "plasma grenades" but no guidance system so they try to hit moving targets just like fifty years ago. Strange.

The Area of operation is Central Asia. Reading the book you get the feeling that this part of the World is a small area since they move from cities and countries in a very short time. But Central Asia is huge. From my point of view T.C.McCarthy fails to paint that picture.

But with all these reservations after page 190 our "hero" cleans up and stop using drugs. The Story cleans up too and gets easier to follow and despite all his problems and the horror you start to feel for him and wonder what will happen.

This is the first book in a trilogy. Strange enough it ends as if there would be no other books in the series but I will continue to read the others as well. Based on the last 100 pages of "Germline" it might be worth the effort.
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on 9 June 2012
A very well written character study in a literary style. The protagonist is a flawed and very human individual both trapped and addicted to the futuristic war that forms the background to this tale. Expect excitement, horror, and hitech weaponry. Highly recommended. Not for kids.
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