by Christopher Golden
Headline, out now
The latest US military advance: robot bodies remotely controlled by soldiers to bring peace to the world, American-style. But when all hell breaks loose, those operating the Tin Men find things are not what they believed…
Christopher Golden strikes into Tom Clancy territory for his highly enjoyable new SF technothriller, set a few years into the future when systems worldwide are breaking down, and the USA has resolved to take decisive action. Unsurprisingly, the Tin Men are not welcomed by everyone in the countries they are sent to, and a powerful resistance movement leads to a devastating attack early on in the book.
The story follows three groups: the Tin Men in Syria at the time of the attack, who have to face some shocking truths about their nature (and how they deal with that drives a lot of their story); the US contingent to G20 talks in Athens, who realise that they are a prime target for the terrorists behind the attack; and those at “The Hump”, the ultra-secret base in Germany from where the Tin Men operation is run. All face the possibility of sudden death at any time – and no-one in this story is safe – laying bare some emotional truths that they may not want to face about themselves.
Golden may be on Clancy’s turf, but the book doesn’t ascribe to the “might is right” credo often found in such novels: the morality of the Tin Men program is discussed in various ways, both from the point of view of those at the sharp end, and of those directing the policy. The viewpoint of those opposed to what they see as American aggression is put across by a captured terrorist leader, who the de facto leader of the Tin Men decides to bring along when they head to Athens to assist the President who’s at the talks.
We spend much of our time with the Tin Men, and get to know them as people first and foremost. Golden does a fine job of presenting a group of soldiers who rise (mostly) to the occasion when the shit hits the fan although my only minor gripe with the book is the ineffectiveness of the lieutenant in charge, which feels a bit clichéd (and a little too like Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens), but I understand the dramatic reasons for the characterisation. Kate, the corporal who’s field-promoted to sergeant and assumes control in the officer’s effective absence, is just one of the many strong POV characters, a paraplegic who “regains” the use of her legs when she is in her suit, and therefore has a different outlook on the prospect of permanently being stuck in it. (We’re never allowed to forget the robotic bodies of the Tin Men: Golden uses the scenes at The Hump to remind readers that it’s the Tin Men’s minds in their robot suits; their bodies are hundreds of miles away.)
Golden doesn’t waste a word of this novel, with its many action sequences told in an economical style that reflects the speed and brutality of combat with constant reminders of the old saw that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy – things are constantly changing and usually not for the better. These scenes are counterpointed with a chase across Athens to Piraeus harbour by the surviving American contingent from the G20, and the search for answers at The Hump, with tension kept at a high level throughout.
Verdict: Featuring many strong characters, including Tin Man Danny Kelso and ambassador’s daughter Alexa Day, this is a fast-paced thrilling read set in a credible future to which I hope Golden returns soon. Highly recommended. 9/10