“Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans of War” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2016)

Mary Roach has wowed her addictive readers with corpses (Stiff), sex (Bonk), and life in space (Packing for Mars). In Grunt she delves into a new arena with the world of the military and the science behind it that protects them in every way possible.

Roach begins with the military combat uniform and its development over time. The author does her job – as usual – as she delves back into America’s military past providing shocking and insightful tidbits, leading up to the current model. She dedicates entire chapters to combat medics, how the military and technology works with extreme heat, how to deal with excessive noise, military vehicles and how they are developed to protect the soldier in every conceivable situation.

The two chapters that are the most moving and poignant of the book are “Below the Belt” and “It Could Get Weird.” With the disturbing evolution of improvised explosive devices or IEDs, the number of men coming back from the front lines alive but often maimed and mutilated below the waist has increased significantly. Often IEDs go off beneath vehicles or from a low vantage point beneath the person causing the explosion to go upward and usually in the groin area. This had led to an astonishing and impressive development in penis reconstruction and genital transplants. Roach goes into fascinating detail with this line of medicine and surgery, as well as the slower development in therapy and helping these injured veterans in living their lives with their families again.

The book ends with a sobering chapter on the autopsies performed on the fallen men and women in action and how they are learning from this to help those soldiers fighting on the front lines.

With most of Mary Roach’s books there is a learning curve, but in Grunt the author learns and develops along with the reader as the military is one of those facets of our society that most of us are not brave enough to be a part of, and sometimes – perhaps often – take it for granted in the incredible daily job those women and men do, and know very little about. Grunt does a great job of educating us on this.

Originally written on July 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Grunt from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“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.

To purchase a copy of Tin Men from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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