BOOK REVIEW: Chimera by T.C. McCarthy
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Stan Resnick is a man at home on the battlefield, a special operative charged with tracking and eliminating rogue super soldiers. Now he has been given his most dangerous mission yet – infiltrating enemy territory and discovering the purpose of Project Sunshine.
PROS: Well developed protagonist, intense and relentless action, and an absorbing near future setting.
CONS: Ancillary characters could use further development.
BOTTOM LINE: McCarthy closes out the Subterrene War trilogy with this largely satisfactory military adventure.
The Subterrene War is over but Stan Resnick’s duty is far from done. Resnick is responsible for killing rogue Germline soldiers, a job he has done well for close to two decades now. Aggression is escalating in Asia and another war is right around the corner. The unstoppable juggernaut that is China has defeated Russia and now turns its attention elsewhere. The secret to slowing a Chinese invasion lies with Project Sunshine and a rogue Germline named Margaret. Resnick will have to risk everything in the jungles of Thailand to recover information on Project Sunshine and find Margaret. But will even that be enough to fight China?
Chimera is book three of the Subterrene War trilogy and it looks like once again I have been missing out on something great. I haven’t read a whole lot of science fiction lately so Chimera really took me by force. This is a fast, furious read (I did it in a day) that takes military science fiction and grounds it in the cold, hard reality of war. But not just any war. McCarthy has done something special by envisioning an evolution of battle that immediately sets Chimera apart from the competition. Most military sci-fi revolves around interstellar conflicts, waged in the sterility of space. Chimera is a much more intimate and gritty affair, a war carried out in the oppressive jungles of Asia and under the very ground.
Reading this book, I got an almost instant feel for Stan Resnick as a character. In a matter of pages McCarthy built the foundation of the entire novel. Resnick is mentally damaged from spending years in the world’s most dangerous battlefields. More assassin than soldier, he has to cope with tremendous pressures. For such a clearly traumatized human being he displays a remarkable level of self control. This is a professional killer, a man more at home in the thick of the fighting than he is in domestic peace. Resnick has a lot in common with Jeremy Renner’s character in The Hurt Locker. He really shouldn’t be a likable character, given his caustic behavior and the actions he takes. And somehow McCarthy still had me rooting for Resnick throughout the novel. There is heavy progression as he goes from detached killer to drunken mess to weary veteran and beyond. This is a prime example of how anti-heroes should be written. Resnick isn’t gritty for the sake of being gritty, he is a man that does what he must to survive.
The supporting cast doesn’t quite match up with the complexity displayed by Resnick. I had high hopes for the partner, Jihoon, an intellectual genius chosen specifically by the higher-ups to accompany Resnick for this mission. Despite a high IQ, Ji is still wet behind the ears when it comes to field operations and this is a hell of a trial by fire. Rookie Ji proved to be a decent foil, giving a frame of reference for all the madness that just comes natural to the battle hardened Resnick. Still I felt as though Ji was under utilized. Most other characters fill out supporting roles and lack any conceivable depth but I did like Margaret, the leader of the AWOL Germline soldiers. Margaret’s part of the novel is short lived but the perspective of the fanatical genetically modified soldiers is gripping. To delve deeper into a Germline’s psyche I’m definitely going to have to get a hold of the second book in the series, Exogene.
What I love most has to be the setting. The Earth has been pretty royally messed up as the result of limited nuclear warfare. People are just trying to hold out until space colonization and mining can be taken large scale. Nations war over precious resources, tunneling through the Earth and fighting in the confines of tunnels. The home front isn’t any more pleasant. A citizen’s every action and spoken word is monitored for evidence of discontent. The government offers brothels in an effort to boost the population. It’s an Orwellian nightmare and it totally rocks. I love that Chimera is a military science fiction novel set on near-future Earth. I love that McCarthy has predicted why war will be waged, and imagined how fighting over rare earth elements may be carried out. McCarthy posits a future not too dissimilar from reality, where there is more privacy to be had in a hellish conflict overseas than in our own home. Chimera blends the claustrophobia of tunnels with the paranoia of jungles.
The plot is comparable to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in a lot of ways. That is, if Apocalypse Now was filled with power armor and genetically engineered killing machines. McCarthy’s focus is that of a laser and continues with the force of a plasma round. Character and setting collide and take off at a relentless pace. There are plenty of atrocities to behold, but there is no violence solely for the sake of violence. The horrors within can be difficult to stomach but the action serves to further the novel, a story of duty and responsibility, faith and fanaticism. Readers will have no illusion that war is a glorious affair, not in this futuristic approximation of the Vietnam War.
Chimera by T.C. McCarthy lives up to its title. This is a singular organism composed of two distinctly different parts, a novel that bears the hallmarks of science fiction with the grim reality of war. The narration comes from a slightly unstable killer who remains sympathetic regardless of the vile acts he commits. T.C. McCarthy has earned himself a welcome space on the sci-fi shelf of my personal library and I eagerly wait to see what further ideas he has in store.
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