You must have heard of Kevin J. Anderson. You must have! And if you haven't then `my god'! please cast your mind back to all those spin-off novels from popular film and TV franchises that you have seen cramming the shelves of your local Borders over the last ten or fifteen years. He has written Star Wars novels, X-Files novels and has even jumped on the coat-tails of Frank Herbert's son James, by co-writing the DUNE expanded universe novels - turning it into something virtually unrecognisable with a prose far removed from Frank Herbert's dense genius. Though Kevin J. Anderson has made a recent bid for originality with his own `Saga of the Seven Suns' series of 7 lengthy novels, this fellow is the biggest Hack this side of Alan Dean Foster, Timothy Zahn and S.D. Perry - three other notorious jobbing pulp writers with a series of unwanted movie novelizations on their extensive rap-sheets. Before Kevin gets the chance to bludgeon the DUNE franchise further with the inevitable Paul of Dune 2 and 3 - here he has turned his attention to the Superman franchise by delivering a...yes...a Hack novel detailing the events that took place on Superman's home planet before its demise and his subsequent despatch to the planet Earth.
This is actually a very good idea for a book. It is surprising that no-one else had thought of this idea before. I myself have been in the dark regarding all the famous character names and places that devotees of the comic book must know off by heart. Similar to the world described at the beginning of Prelude to Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, the race of people inhabiting the world of Krypton have lived a decadent, uninspired and boring existence purposefully cut-off from the rest of the cosmos after a near cataclysmic war long in their past. They have isolated themselves from any contact with any other race, Commissioner Zod's Commission for Technology Acceptance vetoing any invention from the young Jor-El that would threaten the ruling council's stagnant planetary leadership. Zod of course is devilishly ambitious, already displaying ruthless behaviour, bumping off various political opponents who pry too deeply into his black market dealings. Nam-Ek his mute right hand man usually the weapon of choice. Whilst attending a Phantom Menace style grand chariot race at Kandor City's great stadium he spies the very tom-boyish daughter of some decadently-robed nobles in the stand opposite. Her name? Aethyr of course! Impressed with her apparent disinterest in the festivities he tries to romance her, and is promptly dismissed with a verbal slap in the face!
Jor-El meanwhile lives in intellectual isolation on his estate surreptitiously developing one curious invention after another. A commissioned family of artists working on the estate are busy crafting various statues, sculptures and paintings. Lara, a talented young sketch artist, is amongst them. After rescuing Jor-El when he traps himself inside a `Phantom Zone' whilst trying to open a gateway to other dimensions, she becomes fast friends with the shy inventor and eventually they marry. The story also focuses on his brother Zor-El and his governorship of one of Krypton's main cities Argo City. Zor-El's interest in seismology and the volcanic activity of Krypton's increasingly unstable core is also a main feature, as both he and Jor-El try in vain to convince the stale Council that their planet may be doomed and that a planetary evacuation may be the only answer. Aethyr uncovers the ruins of a lost city whilst on a back-packing tour of a deserted part of the planet, and discovers a series of hidden doomsday missile silos - late of the infamous warlord Jax-Ur from generations ago - the man responsible for Krypton's near extinction in the distant past. Exploiting not only this discovery, but the destruction of Kandor City by the arrival of The Brain Interactive Construct (labelled Brainiac), Commissioner Zod begins a concerted attempt the seize power under the guise of a benign but decisive leader promising to protect the planet from future alien attacks. Having defended Jor-El during a recent court case when a friendly alien visitor Donodon was killed secretly by Zod, the Commissioner holds the young scientist under his sway. Jor-El's innovative skill with inventing planetary protective devices (Seismic drills, lasers et al) enable Zod to remove most of his opponents before going to war with the few cities that still stand against him. The whole time all parties, bar Jor-El, Zor-El and Lara, remain either oblivious to Krypton's imminent demise or simply non-believing. The novel finishes with the blast-off of the sole remaining survivor of Krypton in a small space pod constructed from Jor-El's remarkable crystal technology. The legend coming full circle as Kal-El begins his journey to Earth. A baby inside a crystal-studded life-pod.
Kevin J. Anderson's writing does just about pass mustard with his latest tome. He certainly knows how to pack the detailed series of unfortunate events into a crammed 463 pages. The font is thankfully smaller; enabling those adults amongst us to be spared another double-line spaced Hardback from Anderson's stable. He clearly has a detailed grasp of his source material and presents popular items from Superman's story with a slightly new slant: The Fortress of Solitude makes an appearance, known as `The Palace of Solitude', as Jor-El's and Lara's honeymoon destination. `The Phantom Zone' of course appears as the punishment of purgatory when Zod, Nam-Ek and Aethyr are sentenced. And the presence of Kryptonite is featured as an unwelcome emerald element streaking through the lava flows of the planet's mountainous regions, spotted by Zor-El during one of his seismic study trips. Yet despite the effort the novel excites no more than one of his Dune Spin-offs. His indistinct style and workman-like prose could be found anywhere is any workaday paperback littering Border's bookshelves: basically anything involving spaceships, laser weapons, aliens and warfare. The story just does not FEEL like the universe it is supposed to inhabit. The only indication that it is a prequel to Superman appears in the form of chapter break symbols in the style of the `S' on Jor-El's robes. The crest that will become Superman's symbol is presented here as the El family crest. Nevertheless it is a satisfactory read. I handed over my money after all! Perhaps it was the holographic lenticular cover that drew me in. My copy came equipped with a green Superman `S' logo blasting out of the front cover! Perhaps Kevin J. Anderson's writing in his Seven Suns saga is much better. Surely with his own invention he may deliver something unique. But unless he stops being the Hack that he and his cohorts have been working as for years, all you'll be left with is a series of seemingly endless unwanted pulp sci-fi paperback rubbish.