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Saturday, October 8, 2011

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


Read by Donald Corren
Duration: Approximately 9 hours.
Published by Blackstone Audio, 2011.

T.C. McCarthy’s Germline is a non-stop military techno-adventure set in the middle of a war in Central Asia in the 22nd century. Russia and the United States are fighting over the resources of Kazakhstan. It turns out that Kazakhstan is rich in rare metals that are needed for the 22nd century’s technological devices. They have to be mined deep in the mountains of Kazakhstan and the mines, countryside, little villages and cities of Central Asia become battlefields.

Oscar Wendell is a washed-up, drug-addicted reporter for Stars and Stripes. He is the only reporter in the entire theater of war and he is not quite sure how he was picked over better-known reporters. But, he is determined to make the best of his opportunity, already envisioning the Pulitzer Prize as the world’s biggest story unfolds in his lap. He is given some very basic training sent to the front, attached to a unit and outfitted with the latest gear – a self-contained mechanized body suit that provides heat or cooling and even has a rather gruesome system of self-contained waste disposal.

T.C. McCarthy
I mention that system because this book excels at putting the reader (in my case, listener) at the ground level – what famed World War II reporter Ernie Pyle called the “worm’s eye view.” McCarthy’s characters are vivid, earthy and exposed to one insane situation after another – which they can only respond to by going crazy themselves. Some decide to drug themselves, some decide to retreat into themselves, some decide die in battle and others kill themselves. The wide-ranging battlefield leads Wendell from one complicated scenario to another as he drops all pretense of being a reporter and simply fights alongside the men he was supposed to be covering – not because he believes in the cause but because he is so tied to these men that he can that he cannot leave them.

An added dimension is America’s introduction of genetically modified soldiers – all identical and all grown from a test tube and all 16 to 18 year old females (the males were too aggressive) who have been raised in an environment that worships death and sacrifice. Their bodies are programmed to begin to die at the beginning of their 18th year. The title of the book, Germline, comes from a slang term for the military program that developed these super soldiers. Soon, the Russians have their own genetically modified soldiers (all males) and the war takes on a whole new face. Wendell decides to get close to an American “genetic” and soon finds himself falling for her despite the overt prejudice against them.

Donald Corren reads Germline and he does a great job of covering an amazing number of accents. His voice characterization of Oscar Wendell is perfect – he is loose and jaded and wound too tight all at the same time. The only problem was his inexplicable mispronunciation of the word “corpsmen” – he pronounced it “corzman” when it is pronounced "coreman".

This is a roller coaster of a read. The technology is advanced, but this is not a gizmo-based story. Instead, it is character-driven story and it is well worth the read. It is the first in a trilogy about the war that is supposed to follow the separate experiences of three different characters that interact briefly in all of the books but have their own stories.

I rate this audiobbook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Germline (The Subterrene War, Book 1)

Reviewed on September 26, 2011.

Click here to see the review of the second book in the series, Exogene.


  1. FYI, Both /'kȏr-mǝn/ and /'kȏrz-mǝn/ are acceptable pronunciations for "corpsman" though admittedly /'kȏr-mǝn/ is the most commonly used version. Just so long as he doesn't say /'kȏrps-mǝn/ - like a certain Commander in Chief, I think we're alright :-)

  2. I checked multiple online dictionaries and they all only had the "core-man" pronunciation, noting its roots in the American military term "corps".

    That being said, I hardly claim to be a linguist and at least this narrator did not pronounce the "P"!