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Onyx reviews: Tin Men by Christopher Golden

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 05/24/2015

Many techno-thrillers are highly jingoistic regarding America's place in the world. This is not the case with Tin Men. True, US forces are acting as the world's peacekeepers in this near-future novel, but they do so not for altruistic reasons. Any political instability is viewed as a threat to America's security and well-being, so the robotic soldiers of the Remote Infantry Corps are sent in to put down any uprisings or civil wars, regardless of which side is "in the right". In the eyes of many, these are the acts of bullies, not heroes.

Americans are much more supportive of military intervention when troops are not at risk. The soldiers who "man" these remote-control robots are safely ensconced in a bunker at a military base in Wiesbaden, Germany. They are in pods, wired up to mechanical counterparts thousands of miles away for 8-hour shifts, during which the robots stand guard, serve as an awesome physical presence and quickly act to quell any violent outbursts. Picture Iron Man with Tony Stark safely in his mansion running his militarized suit by remote control.

The so-called Tin Men are not indestructible, but they are armed to the teeth, can run at impressive speeds, can withstand most weapons aimed their way, and have sufficient physical strength to tackle just about anything that stands in their way. Most injuries can be repaired in the field. On the rare occasions when someone manages to target their one vulnerable spot (every superhero has to have an Achilles heel, after all), the soldier awakens in his pod, perhaps with hangover like symptoms, perhaps suffering some emotional trauma, but fully intact. In fact, being fully intact isn't one of the requirements to operate the Tin Men: one of the soldiers featured in this novel is a paraplegic who thrills at her ability to walk and run when on duty.

The near future is a grim place. Climate change has wrought havoc on the world's food supplies through a lethal combination of droughts and flooding. Everyone is struggling to survive. Resentment over the US's self-assigned role as global policemen builds to a head, until a cabal of international anarchists (thereby sparing Golden the need to name any particular nation as the enemy) launches an assault intended to equalize humanity by ridding the world of American influence. They want to make war matter to the US again—give the nation something to lose. Their solution should serve as a cautionary tale about all of the data and memories that currently only exist in electronic form.

The attack isolates the Tin Men in their remote locations and reveals an uncomfortable truth about the relationship between these robotic soldiers and their pilots. It sets into motion a thrilling scenario whereby the Tin Men engage in multiple conflicts. Those located in Damascus do their best to protect the American embassy. However, the G20 summit of world leaders is taking place in Athens, so their next mission is to find a way to navigate the new landscape to protect the US president, as well as the heads of many other nations. Finally, the Tin Men want to get back to Germany to resolve the issue that is uncovered when they are no longer able to directly communicate with their leaders. There are anarchist sympathizers everywhere, even within the military, so everyone becomes a potential enemy.

Many of the soldiers wish to preserve the old world order, while others seek only to preserve themselves. Though Golden focuses on the plight of a handful of characters, primarily members of Platoon A of the Sixth Battalion, there are many others who come onstage and disappear, some serving only as cannon fodder. He isn't precious about who lives and dies, which adds an extra level of suspense to the proceedings. The enemy isn't weak and Golden doesn't (like some other military suspense writers) set them up to do stupid things so they can be slaughtered by the heroes. This is gritty combat, even if some of the participants are men and women in metal suits.

The primary conflict is wrapped up in this relatively brief novel. There could be a sequel, but one isn't absolutely necessary. It's an enjoyable romp on its own terms, with a clever high-concept premise and just enough in-depth characterization to keep it interesting.

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