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Awkward and lacking compared to Outpost,
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This review is from: Terminus (Kindle Edition)
After reading Outpost I had high hopes of finding out more about the disturbing virus that had wreaked havoc on the planet. Since both books were set in the same world I expected a continuation of sorts, but it became apparent Terminus was a prequel. Slight let down I admit, but I looked forward to a possibility of finding out why and how the virus struck in the first place. To some degree that was hinted at in Outpost. I haven’t read Juggernaut yet, and not sure if I want to now.
It’s hard not to compare Terminus to Outpost. I’m sure there’s a saying that goes something like: “You’re only as good as your last movie/song/book etc.” Whereas Outpost had characters I either hated or loved, Terminus had a cast of one dimensional characters I didn’t care about, to the point where the names could have been swapped around and it wouldn’t have mattered to the plot.
I wanted to find a character like Jane or Ghost from Outpost, that I could get behind and root for. Nariko, Donnahue, Tombes and Cloke were less than exciting. Not dull exactly, just not worth investing my time in. I wanted to like Lupe, the gangster with a bad history who may just turn out to be the hero and become the saviour of mankind. Clichéd I know, but if any of the characters showed a hint of taking on the mantle of hero it was Lupe.
However, I found myself rooting for Sicknote toward the end. Of all the characters he came across as the more fleshed out. That’s only because by the time Sicknote is given some decent page time, the majority of the other characters are dead. I cared about Sicknote, even wanted him to be the one who figured things out, but he simply fizzled away to nothing.
My gut feeling is there was a strange mixture of too much and too little going on at the same time. Things like radiation on the surface, radioactive water in the subway, Geiger counters being used a lot, infected prowlers that don’t offer much of a threat, old grudges rearing up but never coming to much of a conclusion and way too much detail for a reader to care about.
I’m all for giving a story a realistic grounding in order to make the fantastical elements astonishing, scary, amazing, and wondrous etc. At times the narrative was bogged down with details about re-breathers, dry suits, medical jargon and other junk only the author seemed to care about.
The too little issue revolves around the characters sitting around and waiting for rescue. They’re on Manhattan island and have to wait for a helicopter instead of using any bridge to escape. There’s no mention of the bridges being blown up, which would have been a feasible explanation why they didn’t at least try to flee.
Instead the plot hinges on keeping them in the subway due to high levels of radiation and the subways filling with water. Given this is a work of fiction there could have been any number of methods to enable them to try and escape instead of sitting there getting sicker.
The other day I read a blog post that explained how an author may spend hundreds of hours crafting their story, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to take time and give them feedback. I like writing reviews yet when there are more bad things to say than good I cringe when I write them.
I’m not saying Terminus is bad, it just lacked so much compared to Outpost. At times it felt like it was written by a different author. There were four elements that jarred pretty much throughout the book which brought me out of the story.
Firstly – Good dialogue mimics that of real life. People talk over each other, they cut in, disagreed, answer questions with questions and so on. In the first half I noticed how one character would launch into a long-winded speech, then wait so another character can reply with another overly long speech. Back and forth in a very unrealistic manner. And though dialogue in that respect improved later on, my opinion was still mired by those epic and often pointless speeches.
Secondly – There seems to have been a dramatic change in Baker’s ability to describe a character’s actions compared to Outpost. The narrative is stunted and awkward, and many times I had to reread a section to convince myself I hadn’t read it right.
It didn’t flow well at all when things like this happen: “She picked up the thing. She looked at it. She put it down. She walked over there. She sat down. She looked at something else. She did things.” That happened a lot with almost every character.
Thirdly – There’s no problem with including a map at the start of a book to give the reader something to look at and maybe refer back to. Terminus had too many maps of subways, top views, side elevations and area maps. There were also too many sign-posts, some in image format, others in plain text with no consistency. One sign even popped up several times as if the reader needed to be reminded there were letters missing on it.
Lastly – Short sentences and paragraphs are used to show pace. A tense or action filled scene might have shorter sentences to keep the readers eyes moving along quickly. Longer ones are used when the pace is slower, letting the reader digest things and enjoy longer chunks of description.
As with the: “She picked up thing. She looked at it...” problem, Baker uses the same method to describe places with a nasty stop/start feel to the writing. “Dark steps. Rubble on the floor. A sign on the wall. Rats scurrying. Footsteps. Garbage in the water.”
After reading this same style of description for a second time I questioned if Baker had either written this as a screen play or was imagining a movie set. Was he picturing actors on a sound stage with green screens all around, a director giving the actors some direction before the next shot? “Okay, you’re in a subway, right? Dark steps. Rubble on the floor. A sign on the wall...aaaand action!” It just felt wrong.
The problem is that I want to find something I like about Terminus because based on how much I enjoyed Outpost, I firmly believe Baker can tell a decent story. But it isn’t this one. I’m surprised at how different this story feels, and more surprised at how an editor at Hodder & Stoughton Publishers didn’t pick up on what are very basic errors and suggest either a rewrite or considerable editing prior to being published.
To some degree I can forgive what some may call nitpicking in favour of an author trying out a different style, maybe. And if I disregard what I’ve said above there are still two major problems with Terminus.
First, the characters are flat. They offer very few likeable or relatable qualities and for the most part seem to be going through the motions like they don’t give a s***. It felt like watching the 100th rehearsal of a play where the actors are bored after reading the same lines over and over.
Second, there’s hardly any conflict or character progression. Sure there’s conflict between the subway crew and the infected dudes, but those scenes are few and far between, and even then there never seems to be much of a threat. It doesn’t come across as a threat. Even when conflict is hinted at between characters, there’s never much of a resolution. Things just fizzle out.
As for character progression, I can’t think of any character who was changed because of their experience. Their attitudes, behaviours, needs and desires were pretty much the same at the end as when they were first introduced. And why would a reader want to slog it out to the end and find the characters they’ve spent time with haven’t changed due to their struggle?
The funny thing that despite all these problems I still want to read the next Adam Baker novel because I want it to be a good one. I want his writing ability to match his imagination because when it does he’ll put together an amazing story.
Maybe I’ll give Juggernaut a try.
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Initial post: 7 Jul 2014 11:57:57 BDT
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