The year is 2294 and the fate of humanity exists on the edge of a knife. In the hopes of saving humanity, EarthGov has begun experimenting with an ancient alien artifact they can not hope to comprehend. Known as the Black Marker, it reanimates the dead and warps them into a vile species of organisms known as Necromorphs.
Istvan and Jensi are brothers who grew up in the rough slums of an off-world colony. Though Istvan is the oldest, Jensi has always taken care of his mentally-ill brother. Istvan is sent to a classified holding facility and Jensi will do anything to free him. However, the prison holds a dangerous secret, one that may consume all it touches.
It’s not often that I read books based on established franchises from another medium(excluding Forgotten Realms). I have always found them to be inconsistent from a quality standpoint. Every time I have read a book like this, it’s always felt like I was betting at the blackjack table. In reality, you know the odds are stacked against you, but it is always the illusion of hope that keeps you coming back for more.
Recently, I decided to place my bets and read a novel based on the horror survival video game franchise, Dead Space(a personal favorite). Catalyst is actually a standalone sequel to B. K. Evenson’s first novel in the franchise, Dead Space: Martyr. You do not have to read his first book in order to read this one, hence my use of the phrase “standalone.”
As a fan of literary science fiction, I found this book to be an average affair. However, as a Dead Space fan, I found it to be disappointing. There are certain expectations that come from a novel having the words “Dead Space” in the title and while the novel does try to live up to the name, I found it to be too little, too late. When I read the plot summary on the back of the book, I imagined a scenario that resembled Season 1 of Prison Break meets Dead Space. This is not the case. About two-thirds of the book is simply set up, with all the action taking place in the final act of the book.
The problem is that Evenson chooses to start his tale with these brothers in their adolescence and the final showdown against the Necromorph scourge at the prison takes place when they’re adults. As characters go, brothers Istvan and Jensi are interesting to read about, Jensi(the main protagonist) more so than Istvan. Istvan has a mental illness so every time the story is told through his eyes, Evenson adopts a disorienting style meant to simulate this. It’s just not enjoyable to read through.
Pacing is another issue. I am all for character setup and I get that Evenson was trying to emotionally involve us with these brothers for emotional resonance in the final act, but there was very little in the first two-thirds of the book to make you feel like you were reading a Dead Space novel. It could have been any generic drama set in a science fiction world. When you buy a book like this, you are in on the joke. You know a Necromorph outbreak has to occur in some sort of way. The book should have started closer to the outbreak instead of withholding it for the final act. I often found myself rushing to get to the good stuff early on in the book.
When the shit finally does hit the fan, things get a lot cooler and much more suspenseful. There’s are many things that fans of the video game will recognize or scenarios that happen in the games. Its kind of cool to see these extra little touches, but something about the way the author writes his action makes me feel like Electronic Arts gave him a list of things that happen in the game to include in the final product. He hits all the beats, but the way he hits them is very noticeable, at least to me. He also has a bad habit of preaching the action to the audience, rather than making the reader experience. Here’s an example:
“He fired the flare gun again, and struck one of them in the face, the head suddenly blooming into a ball of fire. And then he veered left, rubbed up against the cells and rushed around them.”
This transition is something the author constantly uses when he writes action sequences. It was easy for me to spot this bad habit because it’s a problem I had to solve in my own writing. It was just a detail I found annoying as a reader.
All in all, Dead Space: Catalyst is a serviceable science fiction thriller within the confines of the Dead Space universe and works as a standalone piece. I don’t regret buying or reading the book, but I can’t help but feel disappointed as a horror and Dead Space fan.
Note: My brother and I are playing the original Dead Space game on Twitch this week. Make sure to follow Evil Geek Cult on Twitter for updates on when we are going to stream!