Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Written by B.K. Evenson
Published by Tor
Remember those cries and insane scribbles on the walls of the USG Ishimura? Cultists driven mad by the Marker, carving themselves and others up before being turned into Necromorphs and stalking you down the darkened hallways of the doomed mining ship?
Then go buy a copy of Dead Space for the console of your choice and get some education on the subject, junior. Dead Space is one of the best horror games ever released, a terrifying journey in the distant future taking us to the edge of madness as you dismember your way through hordes of the mutated dead. I can still remember being on the edge of my seat, breathless, Isaac Clarke wedged into a corner with his cutter at the ready, waiting for whatever it was scritching out there in the shadows to come for him.
One of the most intriguing parts of Dead Space was the detailed backstory. Revealed both in the game and in the animated prequel film, Downfall, an intricate tale of betrayal and cult fanaticism is woven around the survival horror combat. The cult of Unitology plays a vital role in the Dead Space universe, and it’s founder is worshiped as a prophet. Altman be praised, all hail Altman. But who was Altman? Where did all this come from?
Dead Space: Martyr is the answer to that question. Set an unknown number of years prior to the events in the first game, Martyr begins with the discovery of an anomaly at the base of the giant crater known as Chicxulub deep undersea off the coast of Mexico. Remember that meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs? Yeah, that’s the one.
Altman is a scientist who discovers the anomaly simultaneously with several other researchers and a rather dastardly corporation who has plans for what they’ve found…and are willing to protect with violence, if necessary. While the American scientists are working out what they’ve found, the natives have seen a horror on the beach and have begun to change their folklore almost overnight, which Altman’s anthropologist girlfriend detects. They have folk tales of the Devil’s Tail, an object of stone twisted up in a spiral with a forked top that brings hell with it. This object should sound awfully familiar to those who have played the game.
As humanity gets closer to this object, very bad things start to happen. The dead start appearing and appealing to the searchers, begging them to leave it alone. Oh, some of them also become murderously paranoid or suicidal. Small detail there. Again, this process should sound very familiar to players of the game.
The first two thirds of Martyr reminded me of an espionage film, almost like a Bond film where the hero is a scientist and not a super spy. Conspiracies, intrigue, double-crosses, military secrets, all of that comes into play before we reach the final act. It’s exciting, and we have plenty of questions answered about the Dead Space mythos.
The final act, the last third of the book? Pure 100% horror payoff. The Necromorphs are here, our heroes are trapped with them, and all hell is absolutely breaking loose. Intense, gory, brutal action just like the game is what we have for the finale, and man is it a blowout. Absolutely thrilling.
Once the damage is done and the smoke clears, we’re left with a bit of a twist at the end that explains everything we wanted to know about the history of Unitology…and sets up another book, if they’d like to write one.
Evenson does an incredible job here. The book reads like an adventure film that unexpectedly turns pure horror at the end. It never drags, never loses sight of the goal, and hell, barely leaves you time to breathe. Just like the game, actually. I want to see more from Evenson, whether it’s more in the Dead Space universe or some original concept. This is very solid work.
This isn’t a perfect book, but it’s a damn good one. What’s more, you don’t have to play the game to enjoy it. It will hold its own very well regardless of your knowledge of the game, but if you know the game, there’s a great deal of fan service bulking up the already detailed backstory of the universe. And of course, lots and lots of bloody Necromorph carnage and dismemberment. Can’t go wrong with that, can we?
Highly recommended to anyone wanting a good time that includes more body parts than a garage sale at Tom Savini’s house.
4 1/2 out of 5
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