3 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Germline is a near future war thriller taking the form of a gonzo journalist stuck behind the lines of a horrific future conflict in Kazakhstan. This is a well written and well researched book, but honestly I’m not sure who it would really appeal to. It’s very violent and graphic, and the main thrust of the book is to depict how horrible war is in all its forms. Without any attempt to glamorize or excite the reader with its violence, it won’t exactly appeal to people looking for action, and there really isn’t enough of a sci-fi angle to interest anyone in the technology or man’s relationship with it. I liked the book, but I wasn’t exactly ever excited to get to read more of it just because it was so dark and violent and the situations the protagonist are placed in are so unpleasant. I guess I would recommend the book in general based on the fact that it was imaginative, well written, and interesting, but I’m not exactly sure who I would recommend it to.
Oscar Wendell is a drug addict journalist seeking a Pulitzer. His chance comes when he is assigned as the first journalist to see action at the front in person. Unfortunately circumstances, his own personality defects, and his addiction conspire to keep him in the war longer and longer until it is all he knows.
The setting is imaginative and what we see of it well done. The war feels very bleak and real and, the countless horrors that the protagonist faces from each day are haunting and eerie. I’m not exactly sure what human troops are doing in battle at all with the technology level in the book, but since that is the story the author wants to tell I guess it is a necessity.
The main problem I had with the book was that it felt like the technological side was completely superfluous to what was actually going on and didn’t really contribute anything. The story could just as well have been set in a farther future where everyone was a godlike avatar of technological destruction, or in prehistoric times with people trying to stab each other with sticks and bash each other with rocks. There’s very much the grim war story at the core of the book, and some fairly superfluous technological stuff floating around as flavor. I’m not even sure what audience the author is trying to find with the “war is bad” message. If there was a deeper message or comment on changing technology altering how men relate to war, it was deeply buried enough that I didn’t see any evidence of it. I don’t think in this day in age anyone is really arguing for unchecked aggression just for the sake of war with other people, but who knows, maybe this will really resonate with someone.
On the plus side, the book really is well written. The author is able to juxtapose his vision of future combat seamlessly with the actual terror and horrors of war so that all the action seems very vivid and very real. The book moves at a good pace, and although I didn’t particularly enjoy what I was reading, it moved quickly.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
With the primary focus of the book not on technology or how the future has shaped man or anything sci-fish like that, and since the best part of the book is definitely the strong writing, I will make a big departure from my usual pattern and suggest a book that isn’t even sci-fi. I would assert that anyone who liked this book would probably really love Robert Frost’s Good-Bye To All That; the writing is better, and since it’s an autobiography detailing with WWI, it feels even more real and scary.