Audiobook Review: Germline by T. C. McCarthy

6 08 2011

Germline by T. C. McCarthy (The Subterrene War, Book 1)

Read by Donald Corren

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Germline is one of the grittier, realistic and devastatingly moving military science fiction novels I have ever read.

Grade: A-

So, I think the cliché is War is Hell. I really don’t know much about the experience of War. I have discussed the politics of War, and read fictional and non-fictional accounts of war, but I truly don’t understand the experience. I have never served in the military, heck, I was never even a boy scout. I enjoyed playing war as a child, and made an excellent rapid fire machine gun sound that impressed the heck out of the other kids. Yet, I truly don’t know war. My father was a Vietnam Vet, and although we were never really close, and he rarely spoke of his experience, I do remember him telling a few tales. Many of these war tales my father told, had a dark humor to them but was full of tragedy. Yet, what I remember most about them was his tone. He had an almost nostalgic tone when speaking of his time in Vietnam as a Marine Sergeant. I always thought that somehow that tone just didn’t fit. Here was talking about some horrible things, and he sounded almost as if he missed it. I knew Vietnam had affected his life, for the most part negatively, but he sounded like he missed it. I remember him talking about his return to the States, and that would often change his tone for the darker but that level of darkness never reached into his voice when discussing his actual in country experiences. When I started to listen to Germline, a first person tale of a war over mineral rights in Kazakhstan between the US and various allies and the Russians, I didn’t know what to expect. Military science fiction is often tales of adventure, with some grit, but usually with a hero who overcomes the temptations and trappings of war to become a shining example of what a military person should be. In Germline, we truly get none of that. Instead what we get is the tale of a man who finds he cannot define himself outside of war.

Oscar Wendell is not a likeable man. As a war correspondent embedded in Kaz for Stars and Stripes, he feels finally he has the chance to win the Pulitzer, to become the writer he should be. Yet, the writer he currently is a drug addicted hack, and the experience of war just feeds into his faults, becoming more and more dependent on drugs. Matters are made worse when he falls for a Genetic, one of the genetically altered female cloned super soldiers that are used to fight the wars trickiest battles, and are disposed of after reaching a certain age. Oscar falls for one hard, and it just helps perpetuate his self destructive behavior. Thus begins one of the grittier, realistic and devastatingly moving military science fiction novels I have ever read. What I loved about this tale is how McCarthy embraces Oscar’s destructive personality. Unlike most heroes of military science fiction, Oscar isn’t a shining moral example, nor is he truly an inspiring tale of redemption. Oscar doesn’t reach out to the locals, nor does he try to stop atrocities being committed by fellow soldiers, in fact, he cheers them on. McCarthy shows you what a soldier, in a war he doesn’t truly believe in, with his humanity and often times sanity, stripped away, is truly capable of. McCarthy never sugar coasts the costs of war, nor does he try to politicize it, he just presents it in the raw, for the reader to judge. While full of intriguing science fiction details, and their grey moralities, Germline feels more in line with a book like Karl Marlante’s Matterhorn than most military science fiction.

Donald Corren handles the narration of Germline, and handled the first person narrative well. Corren truly captured the voice of Oscar. What most impressed me is his ability to capture that voice in situ, changing his pacing and inflection to suit the status of the character. In the beginning of the books, he gives the voice a tone of stunted deadness. During the characters most drug addled stages he presents the voice with an almost undulating cadence and in the final moments of raging battle, Oscar’s voice takes on a rapid fire staccato that creates a vivid picture of the situation. This is exactly what you want a first person narrator to do, truly understand the character and his reactions to the settings of the novels. I did have a few small complaints about Corren’s reading. Some of his accents, particularly his British accent, came off a bit affected at times. My other concern was with his reading of “The Kid” who despite being from Athens, Georgia, was read with a sort of Middle American neutral accent. Yet, these complaints are minor, and for the most part I loved what Corren did with this book. While many of the situations in Germline are tough to listen to, and the main characters many flaws can often be frustrating. Germline is truly a worthy listen. In fact, Germline offers one of the more realistic and sadly believable accounts of our future wars as genetic science moves forward fast and our depletion of natural resources continues even faster.

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6 responses

6 08 2011
Sam

I really like how you handled this review — not a perfect book, but there’s something there that’s undeniably raw and unfiltered and compelling. It’s hardly fair of me to say as I read hardly any military sf (Haldeman, Scalzi, and Drake is about it) but the book seemed very unique to me.

8 08 2011
Gabrielle de Cuir

Great review.

Casting is always a slippery slope; sometimes an excruciating one when sitting in the producer’s chair and a pre-cast production lands on your desk. Sometimes it’s an author’s choice, which is ofttimes highly unreliable; sometimes it’s a publisher’s choice based on what TV series an actor starred in. The narrator’s performance is also influenced by whether it’s a solo read (in which case no one is there to hear when accents/voices drift) or a lack of an experience director. Especially on a book like this with so much going on.

You get a narrator who excels at 98 per cent of the book’s demands, and you’re doing great. What a heavenly treat when the audiobook casting gods smile down upon one. Sounds like Donal Corren did an amazing job, despite the demands of the novel.

I enjoy your writing; intelligent and spot-on and always well thought out. You remind me of the once fabulous Charles Champlin who used to review film for the LA Times; your interviews are often more interesting than the books you’re reviewing! Keep up the good work, Sir. Thank you.

12 08 2011
Jen - Devourer of Books

Wow, this narrator sounds amazing.

8 10 2011
DWD

I liked this book. You liked this book. This was a great audiobook experience.

15 12 2011
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29 05 2012
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