Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Written by Timothy Zahn
Published by Titan Books
Terminator: Salvation is probably one of the most reviled ‘reboots’ in the recent trend. McG’s attempt to resurrect the Terminator series with a PG-13 action-centric sequel that took the franchise far from its horror/sci-fi roots fell flat with virtually everyone who adored Cameron’s original and sequel. Fraught with problems during production, including the much-traveled explosion by star Christian Bale and a big change in the intended ending, it just looked like $25 of script and $125 million in special effects.
When word hit that I’d be reviewing a novelized sequel to Salvation, my excitement meter was absolutely not pegged. Despite the fact that it was written by veteran sci-fi expert Timothy Zahn, I was expecting more of the same soulless pap served up by its source.
I’m here to say that I was wrong. Quite wrong. Trial By Fire proves a great philosopher wrong because apparently you CAN polish a turd, Beavis.
Big surprise number one: This story does not center around John Connor. In fact, he’s barely in it. If this were a film, it’d be a cameo role. Instead, the story happens on two fronts, one featuring teenaged Kyle Reese, eventual father in the past to Connor, and the other focusing on Barnes, Connor’s lieutenant, and Williams, the pilot who sided with Marcus Wright in Salvation.
There’s still plenty of bad blood between this latter pair over her betrayal to help Marcus escape so while Connor is still recovering from his surgery, he allows them to go on a mission to recover the body of Barnes’ brother at the site of the failed assault on the science lab at the beginning of Salvation in the hopes that they’ll kiss and make up. This mission leads to a discovery by the curious Williams that brings them to a small mountain community that has been mostly isolated from the devastation caused by Skynet that’s a little too good to be true. It’s not long before things go completely sideways and they’re fighting for their lives and against the clock to stop Skynet from fulfilling the plan they started in Salvation.
Meanwhile, Reese is trying to find his place in the resistance. On a routine ammo collecting scavenger mission among the remains of the Skynet HQ destroyed in the finale of Salvation, Reese and his new team are thrown into peril at the discovery of a plot that could endanger Connor and the future of the resistance. And of course we all know that if Reese dies before his trip back in time…
By the time the third act kicks in, both tales come together to reveal that Skynet is anything but defeated and the resistance has a battle on its hands that will force them to change their tactics dramatically.
This is not an action-packed book, which I appreciated. It doesn’t attempt to be a movie; it’s a novel, and Zahn knows how to use that space and slower pacing to flesh out characters and motivations. At one point I was very annoyed with this novel as some characters were spouting complete nonsense that made zero sense in the face of the history since Judgment Day. I should have believed in Zahn as he took that extra time to lay a red herring, and I fell for it. The explanation for that talk, and also the explanation of the title of the book, surprised me, and I was hooked from that point forward.
Unlike in Salvation, you’re given characters to care for, motivations that make sense, and tension that makes you remember that a Terminator is a Terminator, not just some shiny action figure to be knocked down by anyone with a rifle. Terminators are scary again, unstoppable killing machines, and being alone in the dark with one of them stalking you has all the tension it did in Cameron’s films.
It does need to be said that you simply have to see Salvation to get anything out of this book. It takes up directly afterwards and with absolutely no explanations thrusts you right back into the world set up by the film. However, if you’ve sat through that cinematic tragedy, perhaps on a dare or, for example, if you had to review a book based on it, this is a surprisingly fun and intense sci-fi action novel that sets up further storytelling in the universe. It also fills in some blanks that didn’t make much sense in the film, particularly about the new infiltration model Terminators represented by Marcus Wright.
It’s a paperback, it’s a fast read, and it should satisfy fans of Salvation and the earlier films as well. Take the Trial by Fire and help soothe the wound that is Terminator: Salvation.
4 out of 5
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