Audiobook Review: Exogene by TC McCarthy

6 03 2012

Exogene by TC McCarthy (The Subterene Trilogy, Book 2)

Read by Bahni Turpin

Blackstone Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Exogene is literary science fiction at its best, full of visceral imagery, devastating violence and precise war time action. TC McCarthy has taken elements of Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian and Military Science fiction and blended them together into something entirely unique, and perhaps greater than the sum of its parts.

Grade: A-

Science fiction had taught me many lessons. It has taught me that Faster than Light travel is impossible, and that someday we will figure a way to bend space and manipulate time in order to travel large distances faster than the speed of light. It has shown me that through manipulation of our genetic code we will one day free ourselves from disease and disability if we are able to survive the apocalypse this playing god will bring about. Yet, one of the biggest lessons it has taught me, and pay attention you future generations cyber-archeologist attempting to understand 21st century humanity by reading our blog posts, is that the creation of Super-Soldiers, whether they be genetically enhanced human clones or robots with artificial intelligence, will only lead to doom. Now, if for some reason, future humanity, you fail to head the warnings that The Terminator, Battlestar Galacticca, Star Wars and numerous science fiction books have given, then I urge you, treat your cybernetic genetically flawless warriors with respect. Sure, to you they may seem like inhuman tools whose only purpose it to wreak havoc on the enemy of your particular nation state, but, still, if you make them feel like heroes, give them positions of respect, offer them jobs, and an equal shake, then maybe, just maybe they will not rise up and exterminate you as a species. Do not create laws for them full of loopholes a third grader could jump through, do not manipulate them with religion creating future soldiers in a holy war, and never underestimate the effects that your obvious disdain will have on them. Because, one day, they will rise up against you, and being that these are Super Soldiers created for war, my money is pretty much on them.

Exogene is the second book in TC McCarthy’s Subterene War series. In the first book Germline, the United States is embroiled in a seemingly endless war in Kazakhstan over one of the last bastions of natural resources left. Told through the perceptions of a drug addled reporter we meet the Gs, female cloned genetic super soldiers who are bred to have no fear, and manipulated through religion to believe that War and killing are the ultimate tribute to their God, and to be killed in the glory of battle is the path to heaven. In Exogene, the perspective turns to Catherine, a genetic soldier from one of the Germline program’s first lines. Catherine is particularly skilled at killing, earning the respect of her sisters and the nickname “Little Murderer” yet as she gets closer to the end of her two years of service, when the Genetic soldiers are expected to allow themselves to be dispatched, Catherine begins to doubt everything she believed to be true. As Catherine attempts to escape her creators through War torn Asia, she suffers a series of flashbacks that give us a glimpse of her and her sister’s war and how what was expected of them often became the very thing that shocked and disgusted their human counterparts. In Exogene TC McCarthy has taken elements of Post Apocalyptic, Dystopian and Military Science fiction and blended them together into something entirely unique, and perhaps greater than the sum of its parts. Everything is presented through the skewed and twisted perceptions of Catherine, and at times her seeming inhumanity and morbid religiosity can be quite disturbing. Yet, somehow McCarthy manages to use this skewed perception to turn the mirror on ourselves. While Catherine and her sisters are looked at as inhumane, and even an abomination, their actions fit into the logical worldview forced upon them by their human makers. The actions of many of the human characters of this story cannot fall back on the same justifications. Exogene is full of images of dark beauty, from the Catherine’s captured cloned sisters who strive for visual independence in the Russian factories, to the nuclear wastelands of North Korea. Exogene is literary science fiction at its best, full of visceral imagery, devastating violence and precise war time action. McCarthy takes the question of what it means to be human, and turns it on its head, leaving us searching for the blurred line between humanity and abomination.

As I started Exogene, I found myself a little concerned by the narration of Bahni Turpin. Turpin has a unique and often quite beautiful voice, yet it is so distinctive that it didn’t quite fit with my perspective of the Germline units I encountered in Donald Corren’s narration of Germline. Yet, as the audiobook progressed, Turpin’s voice pulled me into the story. Turpin’s voice captures the contradictive nature of Catherine. Catherine is, by development, a teenager, and Turpin’s voice has a youthfulness to it that displays this, yet Catherine is also in many ways ageless, and speaks with a maturity beyond her years. It’s a tough blend of naiveté and the hardness of soldiers, and Turpin pulls this off. There is a lot of challenges in this audiobook, not the least of which is that the main character, and a number of the peripheral characters are in fact clones, yet Turpin roughens her edges and changes her cadence to give each  these characters their own voice. Exogene is also full of foreign accents, particularly those of Russian and Korean characters. While I am not enough of an expert to say her accents were authentic, they felt authentic to me, a novice listener. Overall, this was a wonderful performance of a complex and complicated novel.

Make sure to check out my review of the first novel of this series, Germline.

Note: A special thanks to the good people of Blackstone Audio for providing me a copy of this title for review.

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3 responses

6 03 2012
parrish

this has appeal, liking the idea of the ultimate killing machine with doubts.

6 03 2012
DWD

Sounds good. I am jealous – I can’t wait to hear it myself. I really enjoyed the first one.

11 03 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I adore Bahni Turpin’s narration, but was a bit surprised to see her narrating scifi, since usually I see her on historical fiction. Glad she did just as wonderful a job here as she does with histfic!

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