[Review] The Subterrene War by T.C. McCarthy

Monday, December 16, 2013 K.Z. Freeman 3 Comments

I didn’t have time to think, not even like, Wait a second, I’m about to wipe someone I don’t even know. Didn’t happen. Those thoughts came only later, in nightmares. Daymares.

It is no secret that I hate Mark Lawrence, so after he reviewed Germline on Goodreads, (no, I am not stalking him, Geezus, relax!) I thought to myself, “Oh, look here, another thing for me to hate.”

And so it began. Rather quickly, I might add, since The Bookdepositry offered the whole trilogy for a measly 15 euros. “Hell yes, give it here,” is what I said next, then waited. I waited and, for a while, lo and behold, nothing happened.

Then the postman delivered my drugs and I am quite certain I had that special (retarded) glee on my face; the same one that’s always there when I begin to open a package containing a tome as of yet unknown to me. What glee, what joy, eh?

Anyway, the first book is the one I absolutely devoured. The Gonzo style spoke to me. The excessive drug use and graphic violence caressed my gentle soul, and the prose was masturbate-worthy. Yeah, I said it. Masturbate worthy. It is as if someone had dug up the grave of Hunter S. Thompson and told him, “I know you’re pissed right now, but there’s this thing you have to do.” The reluctant Hunter does this, of course, and what we get is Fear and Loathing done in the fashion of Military Sci-Fi. Differences are there, of course... that is to say, T.C. McCarthy is pretty great on his own without me comparing his style to anyone else.

I read some reviews before I purchased these books, and what irks me a bit is that most of the bad ones either simply didn’t read the whole thing (imo you don't get to review a book like an asshole if you didn't read the whole thing), or felt there wasn’t enough backstory (there were other reasons too, but I chose to ignore those on the grounds that they were stupid). This is not a book like that, this is not a world-building romp of fantasy madness with 5+ POVs. This is a first person narrative, this is in your face. This is packed with thermal bombs and drones flying over your head with you not knowing if they’re yours or your enemy’s. And that’s why this is so good. Fuck a backstory when the story itself feels and reads like you’re there. Fuck a backstory when it is scattered across the pages instead. Better. What more do you really need to know? There’s a war and this is a “soldier” fighting in it – this is his narrative, that’s all you need. If you don’t like it, then we probably wouldn’t get along all that great.

Now having said that, there were instances when I felt things were a bit forced. Admittedly, I have not been in a war, never been in a trench, and never had to feel the fear of not knowing if the next plasma grenade will pop somewhere in the distance and give me ass cancer later, or melt my balls off, but some of the scenes felt slightly unbelievable to me. At first. Then they slowly began to make sense. All of the things the protagonist experiences, all the traumas, all the rampant drug use and the reasons for it, it all makes sense.

It helps that the scenes are written in such a way that no word or sentence ever feels like filter.

Scout runs into some likable characters you’ll never know much about, but will no doubt feel the story is better with them around.

The resolution in book one and all the subsequent books is satisfying, the prose stays the same throughout, I would say it even improves, although I have to admit that the different POV’s for each book made the trilogy slightly less enjoyable for me, not because the characters weren’t as good, it is simply that the other two didn’t do to my psyche what Scout’s story did. Perhaps it is because I know what to expect (somewhat), since T.C. still manages to throw some pretty sick curveballs. Although by the third book, you notice he too likes what I like to call, “The Martin way of doing things.” (although this is military sci-fi, so it’s not really a big deal) You like a character? Pow. Dead. Oh, you like that one too? I don’t know what happened to him, dead probably. Problem?




  1. Hahahaha, the last line is what sealed the deal for me. 5buks you say? gonna give it a go

  2. "Fuck a backstory when the story itself feels and reads like you’re there. Fuck a backstory when it is scattered across the pages instead." favorite part of the review and the book.