What’s this? An origin tale for the background of the Dead Space series?
I must REVIEW IT!
Dead Space: Martyr
Considering the breadth and scope of the story-lines created in the Dead Space franchise, it isn’t any great surprise that in addition to the videogames, comic books, motion comic, animated movies, and prospective Hollywood movie, that at some stage a tie-in novel would appear. Not that it’s anything new. There have been tie-in novels since the days of Resident Evil and they are now quite commonplace in larger gaming franchise cross-media marketing strategies. So to coincide with the release of Dead Space 2, as well as the animated film Dead Space: Aftermath, EA have released the novel, Dead Space Martyr.
As anyone who has encountered the Dead Space series will know, the humans of that universe believe in a quirky religion called Unitology. Not only has this evidently taken the place of all other religions but seems to be either fervently adhered to or ignored completely. While little is ever discussed, there are many references to the Black Marker and a man named Michael Altman. Dead Space: Martyr is his story.
It all takes place in the region of Chicxulub in South America, some centuries before the first game. Mild mannered, yet inquisitive, Geophysicist Michael Altman has taken a low-prestige science job examining a crater in order to remain closer to his girlfriend. He discovers a strange series of phenomenon which tie in with odd transmissions and frequencies emitted from beneath the crater and is thrown into a web of military black-ops conspiracies and a series of psychopathic murders, suicides and self-mutilations; helping fill in a few of the gaps in the history as well as throwing in a few cursory nods and in-jokes to fans of the game. Altman’s struggle is a plausible enough addition to the storyline and doesn’t create any significant issues contradicting the existing histories.
The trouble with Martyr is that despite its pedigree, coming from Brian K. Evenson; the respected literary and popular fiction writer, the novel comes off as half-baked and lackadaisical. It’s almost exactly what you would expect from James Herbert on a bad day. The story plods along at a snail’s pace, without ever building up any real tension, introducing new characters every other chapter only to brutally murder them a few pages later. Meanwhile, the only lasting characters are never given enough for the readers to really connect with; Altman may be the protagonist but we never really get a chance to see him as more than a one dimensional prop. Then halfway through, things take a complete turn and the structure and setting radically alter, improving the interest level marginally but not fixing the character problems. Even as the last 50 pages descend into a rollicking depiction of proper Dead Space horror, complete with Necromorphs bursting from every side while being chopped and blasted apart, we don’t really care who lives or dies.
To compound the problem, there are some very real editorial issues, with sentences like “William Tanner, the man’s name was.” which should never have made it to print. Not to mention another clanger where our 23rd century scientist Altman refers to his heritage not as being part Native American, but instead as simply Indian. Considering that such language is generally frowned on as being politically incorrect now, it seems unlikely that it would have had a retro-resurgence.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to like here. The plot still flows interestingly enough and for anyone who really wants to know how the whole baffling Unitologist religion began and how the Marker first came to light, it’s an interesting insight. It’s by no means a terrible read, and at times can be a bit of a page-turner. Ultimately, it’s simply not a great book, one that is unlikely to appeal to anyone who isn’t a devotee of modern Herbertian horror or a fan of the Dead Space series.