“Tin Men” by Christopher Golden (Ballantine, 2015)

Tin Men
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Fans of Christopher Golden may be pretty surprised with his new novel, as they have to come expect some great terrifying horror, or a fascinating fantasy world. In Tin Men, there is a strong element of science fiction, with the novel set in our near future, but for the most part it’s a relatively down to earth book about people dealing with some truly tough situations.

The world has gone to hell, just as we knew it would. Sea levels have risen, oil is in high demand, and economies worldwide have collapsed. The United States, in its swaggering, isolationist, domineering way has exerted its control where it has deemed necessary to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Drones and unmanned vehicles are everywhere, watching with their many eyes. The US military now consists of remote controlled robot units, colloquially known as “tin men” by those soldiers performing their duties.

Each day these soldiers travel deep underground at Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Germany and enter the Remote Infantry Corps. There they enter their “cubicles,” put on the headgear and with satellite and technology are able to control robots many thousands of miles away in civil war ravaged Syria. Private First Class Kelso is our main protagonist who is with his platoon traveling the streets and on this particular day something big is coming. There aren’t many people around and those few who are there seem on edge. Some sort of attack seems imminent. And then it comes, and it is the likes of which no one has seen before.

A series of massive EMPs – electromagnetic pulses – hit the planet, set off by a worldwide group looking to end the United States’ domination. Most things stop working planet wide. And the tin men find themselves still in full control of their mechanical bodies, unable to access their bodies back at the air force base. It seems they have been lied by the US government and military: when they enter the tin men, their consciousness is in that tin man and if the connection is severed, as it has been here, they are disconnected from their real living, breathing bodies back in Germany.

And so begins their long journey to return to Wiesbaden where their bodies lie. Along the way they will face many “bot killers” looking to end their lives once and for all. They will travel first to Greece where the G20 summit was scheduled to convene to see if the President of the United States is still alive and in need of rescuing. Fortunately, they are tough, seemingly unstoppable machines, though now when they are blown to pieces they don’t wake up in their real bodies; they die.

Golden has created an interesting piece of military scifi here that asks some interesting questions along the way about what it means to be human and conscious in one’s body. While the book begins explaining the interesting premise and makes the big reveal about the tin men once the EMPs hit, it then devolves into a somewhat repetitive series of actions scenes, akin to a James Rollins or Tom Clancy novel, as the tin men seek to return to Germany. Nevertheless, fans of the sub-genre will get a big kick out of it, as Golden has done his research and the book feels all too real at times.

Originally written on August 2nd, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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