Review: Subhuman (Unit 51, #1) by Michael McBride

Subhuman (A Unit 51 Novel)
By Michael McBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After misshapen skulls, all bearing the same deformity and chromosomal irregularities, are discovered in various locations across the globe, a group of disparate researchers are whisked away to a secret research base in the Antarctic where an even more chilling discovery has been made - one that could redefine what we knew about humanity's origin.

I've only read a few previous titles by Michael McBride, and while each were terrific and exciting in their own way, they did little to prepare me for the scope and scientific depth of Subhuman. I have no idea what McBride's background is like, if he's an active scientific researcher or an armchair enthusiast, or just somebody who is able to distill a heck of a lot of information into a cogent story, but it's clear that a heck of a lot of research on a wide range of issues went into this book. I'm used to McBride's thrilling creature feature horror novellas, like the two Snowblind books, so it was really cool to see him stretch out and get comfortable with material more in the vein of Michael Crichton and James Rollins.

While the attention to science, both weird and otherwise, gets high marks, the characters suffer a bit in comparison. For such a large cast, we hardly get to know anybody over the course of 400-some pages beyond their names and affiliations. We have Roche, a former NSA decryption analyst turned UFO hunter; Jade, a war crimes investigator; Kelly, the seismologist; and Richards, the dude funding the whole excavation and fueled by a UFO sighting in his youth. A few other names are bandied about, but they get even less attention than the primaries. Each of the co-leads get a few nice moments to shine, but I never really found a reason to latch onto them.

Despite the shallow characterizations, there's plenty else happening to keep one's attention. I'm a sucker for horror stories that utilize weather extremes (one of the reasons Snowblind caught my eye, in fact), and the colder the better. Subhuman definitely brings the chills, along with a nifty sense of discovery that culminates in an Alien-like bloodbath that left me grinning. The story is a bit of a slow burn while the stage gets set and all the various pieces of scientific anomalies are put into place, but it's all oh so very worthwhile. For the last 100 pages or so, McBride sets the climax to roller-coaster speed, and things get freaking intense fast!

Subhuman marks the debut of McBride's Unit 51 series, and I'm more than ready for book two. Fans of Rollins's Sigma series (or lapsed fan like me looking for something fresh) would do well to check out this title ASAP.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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