Tin Men by Christopher Golden
I confess I haven’t read Christopher Golden before – But having raced through Tin Men in a day (in one friggin’ DAY people. That’s how addictive the writing is!), he is definitely a tour-de-force to be reckoned with. Science-fiction mixed with global politics and tonnes of blistering non-stop action: On the surface, Tin Men is a book that delivers gobs of all this. But dig a bit and it raises questions galore.
In an unspecified near future world – where economies have collapsed, global warming has led to sea levels rising, food supplies have been hit and flood and drought are the order of the day. The world is in a constant state of chaos – Jihadists and Anarchists destabilizing life, tyrants and dictators around the world vying for control and civilians a mass collateral damage to everything. Into this world, America (Uncle Sam!) sends out RIC (Remote Infantry Corps) as a global peace-keeping force. These robots are controlled by actual soldiers – stationed somewhere deep underground in Germany in a military base known as the Hump – their minds offloaded into the tin-metal monsters and thus controlling every action of the bots. Sealed into canisters and monitored for 8-hour shifts by support and tech staff within the base.
The story focuses on Platoon A. (Assholes) and the Tin-men associated with this platoon stationed in Damascus, Syria – a deeply unsettled country where the anarchists are increasingly getting disillusioned by the role of US in their internal affairs. The US utilize the Tin Men to diffuse hot-spots across the world and maintain order – but the rest of the world hardly see it this way. And the tension starts to simmer and slowly pop – starting off in Damascus where an ex-warlord from Afghanistan leads an army of anarchists armed with bot-killers ( a new-age rockets specifically designed to damage the robots – take out their power core) targeting Platoon A on duty. This is followed by a worldwide electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that fries all sat-comm links, electronic devices all around the world. Throwing everything out of whack. Including the Tin Men – who are now stuck with their minds inside the bot-bodies without a satellite that ideally should have helped with the offload back into their real bodies. A G20 Summit that sees the world leaders converge in Athens further complicate matters – as an international cabal targets the very summit to take out these guys including President Of The United States– thus effectively plunging the world into complete chaos. Tin Men decide to haul ass to Athens – with their priority being to protect their commander-in-chief. From here on, the tension levels ratchet up to dizzying levels – the suspense hot, the action non-stop. The shoot ‘em up never lets up, the bullets and rockets are flying all over the place, shrapnel slices into skin, the tin carapace is charred – and in the middle of all this, the Tin Men soldier on.
The primary focus is on the soldiers of Platoon A – Danny Kelso, private – a man without attachments in this world (A lone shark who continues to swim in the waters of the world unattached) and Kate Wade – a paraplegic who has lost her legs in real life but is the Queen of the Tin Men in her metallic bot-body - are the main POVs. Christopher does a commendable job of getting the reader closer to the human frailties locked deep within those tin canisters - connecting us to the real people behind that unbreakable façade. There are various others – the maverick Mavrides, Hawkins the soldier with his unshakeable ethics, Travaglini the loyal side-kick and many more. Not all of them survive the bullet-riddled kinetic power-ride to the end. Meanwhile giving us the human side of things are Felix Wade, chief economic advisor to the president- also estranged father to Kate – looking for a way to survive the madness that has engulfed the world and make it right with his daughter, one last time. Alexa Day – is a seventeen year old on vacation to Damascus to meet up with her father, American ambassador stationed in Syria when all hell breaks loose. On the other side of the fence, we also get Hanif Khan – the man on a crazed mission to wreck damage and exact personal revenge against the bots for having killed his family. Then there is Aimee Sharp, a tech staff within the military base fighting hard to ensure it doesn’t get infiltrated by inside traitors.
Kate is such a strong protagonist that you cannot help but cheer. Danny plays a man conflicted by his phobia to commit to any relation but finds redemption at the end – in the middle of flying bullets and screeching rockets. Frankly though he is bit of a bore and relies on other stronger characters around him to find his roots in this mad world. Alexa would have been a fantastic character to build out but she is in the side-lines while the Tin Men fight it out to get to Athens. But it’s probably her character-arc that sees a sea-change by the end of the book and fittingly so. But if you ask me to pick a Tin-Man I loved, that would be Hawkins. A man you can trust to have your back always.
The start of the book is a bit slow. Where the author slowly sets things in motion around the military base. But once the Tin Men are up and about – stationed in Damascus, the tension levels in the lonely markets of Syria are what suck you in. The mayhem is never-ending. And Christopher pelts the readers non-stop with grenades, rockets and bullets singing through the ride. All the way from Syria to Athens to Germany. And yes – there is a story behind, that forces questions around the role of US playing the world police-man, will that be in the best interests of the rest of the world? Will it lead to unrest and riots in the longer run?
A scarily plausible future – one that is brought out in full technicolour and painted a rambunctious red drenched in blood and bullets by Christopher Golden – this man knows how to get your pulse racing immersing you in a believable world lived in by robots who are more than humans. A military science-fiction that hits all the right spots and forces you to think. A roaring good tale of shining valour that stands out amidst the screaming rockets, this one should be on the big screen. And soon.