[Seriously. I'm giving the big finale away. You've been warned.]
After taking a couple years off to have a baby and brood over the death of the father (in the previous book, I inferred), Chace is roped back into the game for an off-the-books attempt to replace the vicious, rapey president of Uzbekistan with someone less evil.
The subtitle could have been "The Horrors of Torture". The reader is treated to beatings, maimings, gang rape, and death by boiling (though none of it is gratuitous.) It's an attempt at indictment. I say 'attempt' because when Rucka makes the obligatory assertion that torture is ultimately useless (the victim will say anything to make it stop), he later on the SAME PAGE has it be successful, with the torturer getting the information he wanted. Oops.
When it wasn't turning my stomach, Private Wars was dazzling. Excellent, realistic spycraft and logistics, complex and believable international politics, realistic action sequences. And just a wonderful, awful ending--Chace is forced to kill the 'good' guy, while his 2 year old son clings frantically to his legs, to prevent him from taking revenge on the Uzbekistani president who had his wife raped and tortured to death--that demonstrates how terrible duty can be.
Hybrids is aptly named as it mixes a lot of win with a lot of silliness.
1) The wonderfully logical neanderthal civilization. Sawyer imagined a technologically advanced hunter-gatherer society, as opposed to our agricultural society. It's tremendously different but all of the pieces fit together, they have reasons for being. Unlike John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, for example, in which the alien civilizations are just different to be different.
2) Challenges to the ethicality and practicality of the neanderthal ways of doing things. Their single planetwide government, their sterilization of violent criminals, their methods of population control, their Big Brother-like justice system, it all gets picked apart, examined, and put back together. Do the idyllic ends justify the oft-unsettling means? The discussions are fairly sophisticated, with no easy answers.
3) Exploration of religion as a purely electromagnetic phenomenon. A scientist is able to induce life-altering sensory experiences by generating an electromagnetic field around the temporal lobes of the brain. This raises some thorny issues and uncomfortable conversations for the protagonists. And for the reader.
Stumbles (and a couple minor plot point spoilers):
1) [minor SPOILER follows] To fit into her adopted "Barast" society with her male neanderthal partner, our human hero is pressured to also take a neanderthal woman-mate like all Barasts. Her conversion is abrupt and contrived: Sorry, not a lesbian, can't do it, just not wired like that, nope, nope, OH GOD I LOVE WOMEN! Oooooookay.
2) [SPOILER follows] I was put off by how the author followed up on the castration of the rapist from the second book. In Hybrids he is initially enraged by his maiming, then over weeks becomes calmer and calmer, comes to regret his antisocial actions, rejects his hatred of women, saves the world from evil, and dies contentedly an unrecognized hero. Really, the only difference between a serial rapist and a noble bastion of honor and dignity is the absence of testicles?
3) The lack of physical trade-offs. Sawyer's "barasts" are on average more intelligent than humans, due to selective breeding, and they're far stronger because, well, Sawyer says so. But they're also running 3-minute miles, in spite of being built like short bow-legged dump trucks. And super-coordinated.
Would neanderthals really be physically superior in every conceivable way? Bombers trade the speed and maneuverability of fighter jets for range and cargo capacity, adult trees endure through strength while saplings do so through flexibility; if you could fit all features in one package, we would. But even the unimposing nerdy quantum physicist protagonist is a bona fide kung fu action hero whenever he visits our Earth, just by virtue of being neanderthal. BAM! POW! Human miscreants, malefactors and evil-doers go flying at every turn. Sawyer needs to stop channeling Batman.
At the end of the day though I had a lot of fun with the book and the series.
Rather than embarking on a homicidal rampage, Lemire's invisible guy makes his way to a tiny Canadian fishing village to hide out and try to find a cure for his condition. A bored teenage waitress befriends him, his only real human contact. The other locals react to the reticent, bandage-covered stranger with a mixture of small-minded suspicion and small-town laissez-faire. And then his former lab partner tracks him down and things get exciting.
The illustrations were typically Lemirean...it feels like watching a movie by a rather artistic director. The author definitely has a vision. Plotwise, I thought it suffered a bit within the constraints of the source story. I might have enjoyed The Nobody more if I weren't familiar with The Invisible Man.
Heller employs a weird, poetic style, eschewing quotation marks, sentences, pretty much all the cues I've been trained to rely on. It was awkward but effective at putting the reader in the head of the lonely, romantic, maybe-losing-it-a-little contractor-pilot protagonist.
Not terribly satisfying as an apocalypse novel. There's very little exploration of how the world ended (plague) or what was left afterward (evidently nothing) or what might be salvageable. Everyone is either Bad or dead. Guess Heller isn't a big believer in civilization.
The titular welder works on (under) an oil rig off the coast of Canada (Nova Scotia maybe). He has a lonely and hugely pregnant wife but keeps leaving her because he loves the solitude of his work. Not a happy guy, our welder. He neglects his mother and is action-packed with issues regarding his father, who disappeared when he was a kid and is presumed drowned.
Then during a dive he has a supernatural experience/medical emergency. His doctor and coworkers want him to take time to get healthy and care for his expanding family; he's convinced that there are "answers" that can't wait, out there beneath the waves. He leaves his furious wife--who promptly goes into labor, natch--to go back into the ocean. At night. In a storm. Like his missing/dead father is believed to have done. Not a terribly bright guy, our welder.
The introduction by Damon Lindelof compares The Underwater Welder to a Twilight Zone episode, and that's pretty spot on. It reminds me of the episode where a nuclear holocaust leaves a prissy misanthropist with all the time in the world to pursue his love of reading and then SPOILER ALERT he breaks his glasses and there's no one to help him. The Underwater Welder is similarly about a guy getting what he thinks he wants.