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Exogene (The Subterrene War)

Exogene - T.C. McCarthy Read by Bahni Turpin for Blackstone Audio and released concurrently with the mass market and e-book from Orbit, Exogene sets up as a much more traditional military sf novel than did the author’s debut, 2011’s Germline. Germline was read by Donald Corren, and was a drug-addled war journalism narrative, glossing a bit over technical details whether of weaponry, mech suits (other than detailing a bit of the waste system), or of the eponymous genetic engineering. Here, Exogene shares only the setting — a near future war over mineral resources in Kazakhstan and its surrounds — and a first person perspective. The voice has changed, as has the narrator’s attention to technical detail. Turpin shows us the Subterene War from the point of view of Catherine, one of the genetically-engineered soldiers used by the United States and its allies. We find out some technical details of her flechette rifle such as its capacity, speed, and firepower. We find out more about the science and psychology and training behind the Germline project, and the lives, loves, and losses of women who were more shallowly perceived by the aforementioned drug-addled male journalist in the first book. This is not to say that there aren’t a few missteps: in the first quarter of the audiobook, some post-production artifacts remain from re-recordings for corrected pronunciations, though they aren’t too distracting. And for my money, though this was admittedly a review copy, some of the emotional impact of these losses don’t appear fully realized or felt. (Though, again, there are drugs and psychological conditioning at work.) But overall Turpin does a quite capable job here of bringing the “girls” (16-18 year olds) to a richer life, amidst a wider and richer cast of characters than inhabited the close quarters of Germline. Turpin’s turn at Russian (and other accents) are mostly well done, easily besting recent attempts from other non-native narrators (Malcolm Hillgartner’s forgettable tries at Russian, Hungarian, and Chinese accents in Neal Stephenson’s Reamde for example) though at times the closing words of sentences lose their flavor. It’s a good thing Turpin can handle her Russians, because we see quite a few of them, and hear a fair bit of Russian along the way towards discovering what it is the Russians are up to, exogentically. (If you’re guessing “exoskeleton”, you’re on the right track.) While Germline spent quite a bit of the capital of sf ideas for the world of the Subterrene War and had a more unique voice, Exogene sees McCarthy come a bit more into his powers of plot, and already leaves me wondering on where he’ll go with the trilogy’s conclusion, Chimera, due out in August.