Exogene by T.C. McCarthy

February 2012  
Mass Market Paperback            
ISBN 978-0-316-12815-5            
400 Pages  
Review copy courtesy of the publisher    

ExogeneIn the near future, war is fought on the front lines with advanced weaponry.  Minerals are dwindling and nations are vying for all the resources they can find.  The advanced weaponry used on these frontlines look and act human, but are not quite human. They are artificially created humans, Germline soldiers. Women who, at 16 years, are trained, indoctrinated, and subsequently forced to fight for two years before they spoil.

Germline introduced readers to T.C. McCarthy’s bleak future through the first person narrator Oscar Wendel war correspondent on the frontlines of the Subterrene War. Exogene is a return to that world and first person narration, but McCarthy shows us the war from a soldier on the frontline, Catherine. As the novel begins, Catherine is beginning to spoil, though McCarthy flashes back in many scenes to her life before she goes on the battle-lines. This is an effective way to parallel where her character is going with how she came to be who she is.

We learn of the indoctrination germline soldier’s experience, believing in a God who sees soldiers as His ultimate tool. Subsequently, ultimate goal for these soldiers is to fight and die in service to God. Like many a war novel prior to Exogene, the focal soldier character begins to question the teachings she’s lived by and as she spoils, her questions about the war itself become more frequent. As the germline soldiers are indoctrinated, questioning the ‘why’ of the war was not even a consideration, they are simply to fight for God.

McCarthy storytelling takes a leap in Exogene, on a thematic level. Here, through the characters a greater examination of what makes a soldier on the front line comes to light – the morals, the stress, the anguish all from the point of view of a soldier. Bringing religion and faith is nothing new to war, as many a historian have said more men/women/soldiers were killed in the name of God than anything else, so it would seem a logical thing for artificially created soldiers to be molded by faith in God with their ultimate purpose is to fight and die for that God.

One of the other questions implicit in this novel is this – just what is it to be human? Are Catherine and her fellow germline soldiers human? They breathe, look (mostly), and behave in ways that many would consider human.  Smartly, McCarthy doesn’t provide hard and fast answers to this or any of the questions he raises.  The characters navigate these questions in the midst of a war fought as fiercely as any the world has seen with tools and weaponry superficially similar to past soldiers on the frontline, but quite different below the surface. Catherine’s problems become even more challenging when she becomes self-aware of her plight, which parallels the rotting syndrome all germline soldiers experience during their waning days of life and service.

Although I’ve only read The Forever War once many years ago, the same debilitating fighting-without-quite-knowing-why feel and sense of a war without end pervade. 

McCarthy’s Subterrene War is proving to be smart and not quite like much of the Military SF that preceded it in the right ways just as it echoes many of the themes, following those same predecessors in spirit. Exogene doesn’t possess quite the same pull as its predecessor but it is an advancement of the discussion of war, the tools of war which change in execution and final product even if some of the of motivations for the soldiers have existed for centuries.


© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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