By T.C. McCarthy
Orbit Books, out now
Oscar Wendell, journalist in search of a story, finds himself sucked into the realities of 22nd Century warfare…
T.C. McCarthy’s debut novel is a harsh and gripping journey through a war that is somehow a melange of the First World War’s trenches, Hitler’s retreat from Moscow, the siege of Stalingrad, the horrors of the Korean War and the conflict in Vietnam: all the worst moments of those pile in together as Wendell goes from naïve rookie to a seasoned veteran, passing on wisdom to newcomers. It’s reminiscent of some of the best war writing in its depiction of the terrors of close-quarter combat and the mind-numbing boredom that characterises the lulls between fighting. Small moments of humanity shine through – a General who takes Wendell under his wing won’t abandon his men when given the chance; travelling back through the lines, Wendell and his party are given a lift on an Armoured Personnel Carrier – to counterpoint the utter depths to which some people fall.
It’s not an easy read: for the first half of the book, Wendell is an unlikeable character, but after he is forced to clean up his act, he does take on a mission that is partly selfish, but can also be seen as a quest for redemption. Ironically, it’s in his dealings with the Kid (we never learn the name of the youngster Wendell in his turn takes under his wing – the reporter has learned not to get attached to people) that we see him at his best, rather than in his efforts to help one of the genetically-created female super soldiers (products of the Germline program in the title) from being killed.
McCarthy’s background as a weapons analyst for the CIA informs his writing – the technology never feels as if it’s totally outside the realms of possibility – and his depiction of the grip of addiction has a verisimilitude which will be recognised by anyone who’s allowed substances of any sort to govern them, rather than the other way around.
Verdict: Harsh but ultimately rewarding – I look forward to the next book in the series to find out a further perspective on the conflict. 7/10