A while back I wrote a review of T.C. McCarthy’s Germline, the first book in his Subterrene War series. The story followed a journalist as he joined the fighting in Kazakhstan for rare metals. Much of the fighting took place below ground in tunnels, with soldiers wearing full-body armored suits that protected them from a variety of attacks that include chemical and biological. Fighting alongside them are the Gs, genetically-grown female soldiers who live to fight and die, believing that dying in combat is a direct path to heaven due to the programming downloaded into their brains during gestation (along with combat skills that are instinctual, not learned). The book was gritty stuff.
Well, McCarthy has now released the next book in the series, Exogene, and the author hasn’t let up on the detailed descriptions of combat in the near future. A few things have changed, however — the war has taken a turn (at least the war described in the first book) and now the US troops are being redirected to different locations as they prepare for fighting above ground with Russian troops and maybe even a long-lost enemy that has popped its head up from radioactive ruins and is itching to flex its muscle… more on that in a moment.
Another difference with this second book is the main character — while the first book followed a non-engineered human, this book follows a G — her name is Catherine, and while she’s a genetically engineered soldier like her sisters, she’s also a bit different… and the US military has a strong interest in following her. Why? Because the Gs are pre-programmed to spoil — when they hit 17 or 18, their minds begin to fail, their bodies begin to deteriorate, and if they haven’t been killed in battle, they have an almost instinctual desire to seek out death, either via a fellow sister or suicidal runs straight into the heat of battle. But something unusual has been happening with the sisters, and it started in Germline: some sisters want to live. And they’re willing to run for sanctuary wherever they can find it. Rumors abound on various locations where sisters can find safety, and that’s where this story really begins to develop, when Catherine begins to have desires to live that conflict with her built-in desire to die.
Exogene uses a series of flashbacks that are mixed into the primary storyline to help the reader understand a bit more about why she is different, how she has shown signs of being different to her sisters and military observers, and how the change slowly developed during her combat missions. These observations are slowly discovered as the primary story of her running for safety develops. Catherine hears that North Korea is a way-station to sanctuary, and she wastes no time in making her run. But the spoiling has begun, even for Catherine.
During her escape, she is pursued by Special Forces with orders to terminate her. But the Special Forces soldiers are something she can deal with — she knows their methods, obviously. What she doesn’t know are her enemies… or what she perceives as her enemies. Having fought Russian soldiers and their equivalent male Gs, she is quite confused when she is taken prisoner by Russian Gs and treated with almost reverence. They don’t wish to kill her, but instead offer her a place in their own promised sanctuary — Siberia. But the Russian Gs, while not programmed to spoil (and now offering some medical assistance to Catherine), have their own problems, namely that their promised freedom after fighting turns out to be hard labor in mining camps and as experimental subjects for improvements in armor, genetic makeup, and even more horrifying experiments. Once Catherine begins to understand that her freedom with the Russian Gs is really no better than her servitude with the US military, she once again is determined to make that run for North Korea.
But rumors are circulating that the Chinese, long thought out of the picture due to a nuclear catastrophe on their homeland, are starting to make an appearance. And Catherine’s escape route takes her through the demilitarized zone that just skirts Chinese territory. Is China readying itself again as a military power to fight for its own possession of the rare metals that are fueling all the current conflicts?
There are a lot of questions raised in Exogene that I imagine will be answered in the final book of the trilogy. Whereas Germline concentrated on the human element of the war, Exogene focuses on what it means to be a genetically engineered soldier with a pre-designated lifespan. I am anxious to know where McCarthy is going with some of the hinted-at story lines introduced in Exogene. You’ve got Gs with mental breakdowns, human soldiers on both sides weary of war, multiple countries still wanting to maintain their presence in the resource-heavy regions up for grabs, and a possible super-power once again exerting its muscle but not showing any of its cards just yet.
I’m not sure where Chimera (book 3) is heading in terms of storyline, but I have a strong feeling that things aren’t going to be sunshine and daisies for any of the countries or their soldiers — human or G. I’m hooked, though… so now it’s just a waiting game for Chimera to be released.
And if you’re curious to know more about the events in Exogene, take a look at four of the uncovered video interviews that offer up some information about the war and the genetics used to fight it. You can view the videos at thesubterrenewar.com.