Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review- Dead Space: Martyr, by B.K. Evenson

Dead Space: Martyr, by B. K. Evenson, is a pretty easy recommendation for fans of the video game franchise it’s based on. For those unfamiliar with the world and its history, however, it’s a more difficult sale.

In the game, you blast your way through an army of Necromorphs, horrible creatures mutated from the bodies of the dead. You learn that the whole mess got started because of a mysterious object called the “Marker,” which is also a holy icon for Unitologists, a religious group that believes these grotesque events are simply a step on the road to convergence, or a oneness of the species.

The game packs a lot more brains and story than most of its ilk so, naturally, publisher Electronic Arts has decided to flesh things out in a variety of ways. There has already been a spin-off title for the Wii, a series of comics and an animated feature film dedicated to unraveling more of Dead Space’s mysteries. An interactive comic is releasing shortly, followed by a graphic novel in December and, in early 2011, Dead Space 2.

So, yes, there’s a lot to digest in this world where the dead never stay down and a headshot is about as helpful as a pat on the back. But what we’re here to talk about today is the novel, Dead Space: Martyr.

Set a few hundred years before the first video game, Martyr tells the story of Michael Altman, a scientist who (as fans will remember) would eventually become the founding father of the Unitology religion.

When an unexplained signal suddenly starts broadcasting from the middle of a centuries-old crater, nearby scientists scramble to discover its origin and purpose. Altman is one such scientist and, driven by an insatiable curiosity, he will find himself at the heart of the investigation and come face to face with the consequences of chasing questions best left unanswered.

Whoever’s idea it was to tell this origin story, whether it be the folks at EA or Evenson himself, made a wise decision. Rather than a novelization of what we already know, fans are instead treated to a new story and even given the answers to a few nagging questions along the way.

Altman, it turns out, didn’t play the role expected of most religious forefathers, and it is this story of reluctance and struggle that makes Martyr such an intriguing read.

Where did the Marker come from? What is its purpose? Why do the dead refuse to stay that way when the Marker is present? While Martyr dances with these topics throughout its 400-plus pages, it manages to reveal just enough to make the reader eager for the next chunk of story in the upcoming game without pulling back the curtain too far.

While some of the dialogue feels wonky and a couple breaks from character jar the emersion, Evenson writes well for the most part and especially excels when dealing with the horror and action sequences.

Much of what drives the characters in the Dead Space universe is the result of hallucinations and manipulation, and Evenson does a good job of getting into his characters’ heads and presenting some pretty disturbing scenarios.

My biggest gripe is that a large chunk of the book breaks too far from the action. The first third moves along quickly, setting the stage and showing off just what the Marker is capable of. The last hundred or so pages are when things really get hairy, giving fans of the game their biggest reward for coming along for the ride.

The middle of Martyr, though, simply moves too slow and feels like filler between the most interesting bits. It’s important to keep continuity, but when so many scenes lack movement and kill the pacing, it becomes apparent a more compact story would have served the book well. There are still a handful of great moments sprinkled across the more sluggish pages; it just takes more work to get to them than I would like.

These complaints aside, I enjoyed my time with Dead Space: Martyr. I, for one, love the universe and have little trouble telling likeminded fans to run out and pick it up. Sci-Fi nuts, too, should find a serviceable story to keep them entertained for a few hours. The uninitiated, though, are likely to find too little meat on the bones to warrant a read.

In the end, Martyr proves a worthy addition to the mythos. As part of the Dead Space universe, it succeeds. And, really, it’s the fans this book was written for in the first place.

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