Abandoning the domestic sphere he explored so aptly in Love Minus Eighty (2013), McIntosh tells a more global yet still deeply personal tale about life during wartime and its aftermath.
In 2029, the telepathic, starfish-shaped Luyten have just about conquered Earth—it’s tough to fight an enemy who knows everything you’re about to do. Pushed to the brink, humanity develops the defenders: brilliant, 16-foot tall, three-legged soldiers impervious to telepathy. But once the Luyten are defeated, there are millions of defenders who are ill-suited to anything other than war and who are in a position to demand whatever they want from the weaker humans. The larger picture is primarily filtered through the perspectives of Kai, an orphan who inadvertently befriends Five, a wounded Luyten later captured by the U.S. government; Oliver, Kai’s eventual adoptive father, a socially awkward CIA operative who interrogates and becomes unduly influenced by Five; and Lila, Kai’s future wife, a clever, scientifically inclined young woman. As in his other work, McIntosh builds a believable universe with well-thought-out social dynamics—although the beginning of the novel does jump about in time somewhat confusingly. The genetically engineered soldier who can’t adapt to peacetime is a frequent figure in sci-fi, but most previous examples of the trope haven’t considered the implications quite so carefully. And, of course, the novel’s sharp commentary on the difficulties soldiers have fitting into civilian society after their service—and the struggles of civilians both during and after war—has a sadly contemporary relevance. There's also a fascinating take on how political alliances shift over time: One's bosom friend today can be one's deadly enemy tomorrow, and vice versa.
McIntosh has his finger on the pulse, again.