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Book Review

Book Cover

Tin Men


Author: Christopher Golden
Publisher: Headline
RRP: £13.99
ISBN: 978 1 4722 0967 2
Publication Date: 16 June 2015

It’s not often that you come across a novel with a great premise that is also executed well. Christopher Golden’s Tin Men (2015) just happens to be such a book.

I am a great believer that good science fiction should relate to changes in the human world from the development of new science. In the case of Tin Men America has created an army of remotely piloted robots.

Squads of these machines have been deployed across the world, though it is notable that they are not dispersed into Russia or China, with the express purpose of keeping the peace. They stop wars, even prevent new ones from starting by their visible presence. Through their presence America has become the de facto peacekeeper of the world, although not all of the liberated see it this way. Many see the deployment as an invasion.

Private Danny Kelso is stationed in Germany, but the Tin man he pilots keeps the uneasy peace in Damascus. Insurgents attack the patrols from time to time, but America is happy to pay for this as only robots and not American lives are lost. Taking over the morning shift he and his squad mates take up residence in their Tin men, only to discover that something is very wrong.

The normal bustling city is almost devoid of people leading the squad to think that an attack is imminent. Try as they might they are unable to gather any useful intelligence, before a massive EMP burst takes out all sophisticated electronic, except for the shielded Tin men. Cut off from their base of operations, the truth slowly dawns on the pilots that rather than waking up in their tanks, they have remained trapped inside their robots.

There is much to like about the story, the pace is kept high and the author spends time on looking at the consequences for the trapped pilots. The deliberate incarceration delights one of the squad, as in her waking life she has no legs and so loves the feeling of being able to run. Others react differently as the squad realise that the EMP is not just a local phenomena, but has been triggered simultaneously across the world, potentially pushing the highest developed counties straight back into the dark ages.

The story is told from three perspectives. The first is the surviving Tin men, who not only capture one of the men responsible for the apocalypse, but also decide that they are going to head to their shielded base in Germany where their unconscious bodies are kept alive in tanks. Along the way they rescue the ambassador’s daughter.

In the second thread we follow the President of the United States, who is trapped in Greece, attending a meeting of numerous important heads of state. When the EMP is triggered the conference is attacked killing everyone except the President, who had yet to arrive.

In the last thread we follow the attempt by the squad’s base to hold off an attack by anarchists, whilst at the same time are trying to work out if they are the only surviving base left. Ultimately, the three story threads dovetail into a single one before the end of the book.

There was much to like about the book, it contains a number of strong female characters and looks at the consequences of American foreign policy, albeit with a science fiction bent. For the characters their actions have consequences and what they experience leads to character development.

The book may start out as a bit of military sci-fi, but it quickly focuses down on the characters, which is probably why a number of elements in the book did not ring true. The explanation as to how the soldiers are able to transfer their minds into automatons is not really covered well. Some of the military aspects seemed ill judged. When the new squad takes over their Tin men, the robots are standing out in the open, easy targets during the shift change. Why was a known fault in the Tin man design, which effectively gave the robot its own Deathstar vent, just waiting to be attacked, not fixed or protected?

I was also confused with some of the descriptions, either it slipped the author's memory that he was taking about robots or the military had decided that they should come with the ability to have expressive eyes and eyebrows, which did not ring true.

Those quibbles aside this was a well written novel and hopefully it is just the first of a series as I would love to know what happens now the world has gone to hell.


Charles Packer

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