Written by Leigh Dovey
Strange things are afoot amidst the isolated Nevada Desert in Leigh Dovey’s self-published sci-fi/horror Bad Code, and unfortunate protagonist Matt Walker is about to find himself right in the middle of it.
After losing both his job and girlfriend in short order, Matt sets off with his best friend, Johnny, for a lengthy outback motorcycle trip with the intention of undertaking some serious self-reflection and life adjustment.
Following a chance encounter at high speed with a naked man in the middle of the road, the two friends wind up worse for wear – rendered unconscious with their bikes wrecked.
Awakening in a converted railroad car on the outskirts of the secluded town of Folly, Walker is shocked to find himself in the care of aging war veteran Alvin Mcready and – more unbelievably for him – Alvin’s hulking, fifteen foot tall robot named Tyson.
But they aren’t alone. Alongside them in Folly live a selection of Alvin’s fellow ex-soldiers, and each of them is trapped within by the presence of The Machine – a highly advanced piece of cybernetic war-tech that wants all of them dead… on its own terms.
You see, Folly is home to a military science research, development and testing facility, and each of the men stationed there had a purpose – to provide their own memories of their time at war to The Machine, in order to gift it with the ultimate selection in in-built knowledge of survival in conflict. But things have gone awry, and The Machine has inherited not only the men’s combat abilities, but each of their individual regrets, moments of terror, loss, and outright madness.
Clad in the skin of its creator, as though to do so somehow makes it human, The Machine seeks to rid itself of the insanity that rules its artificial mind by purging the denizens of Folly one by one – hand-picking them from the cowering group and crucifying them atop the nearby hill for all to see.
With all routes of escape rendered impossible by The Machine’s incredible speed, strength, and selection of all-seeing video feeds, the men have little option but to sit around and wait to be picked off – a fact that regularly sees the rise of internal disagreements of the verbal and physical kind, as this group of volatile characters are forced to simply await the inevitable.
Author Dovey, previously known for his film and novel adaptation The Fallow Field, imbues Bad Code with a pace that rockets along almost as quickly as the mechanical monster at the centre of it. Getting Walker and Johnny into Folly and introduced to the threat as fast as possible works very much in his favour, allowing the overruling tension of the situation to bubble away in the background while the more immediate confrontations between characters fire off.
Walker is an easily identifiable everyman – fed up with his lot in life, he takes this opportunity to get out there and throw a punch at the world. Initially, he has no intentions of playing the hero, but as curiosity and circumstance collide to make him the only realistic hope for the group, he’s forced to stand up for humanity and take any shot he can get at reaching the outside world. Johnny, on the other hand, spends most of the novel incapacitated, failing to amount to much but a simple device for emotional manipulation of the reader when it comes to Walker’s feelings for his friend.
More interesting than him are the rag-tag group of battle-scarred soldiers residing on The Machine’s hit list – from the wiser, cool-headed leadership figures to the coiled-spring brutes almost constantly pulling knives or guns on their fellow man, the action in Folly stands consistently entertaining in a pulpy, B-movie ensemble sensibility. Sure, most are little more than angry soldier archetypes, but it’s a fun time around them nonetheless.
Which is also very much how Bad Code feels – like a cult sci-fi/horror/action flick straight out of the late ’80s or early ’90s, pumped full of testosterone, imaginative excess and bombastic set pieces. The Machine is a formidable, and interesting, foe, even if its internal monologue comes through as occasionally overwrought and unconvincing in its attempts to convey the electronic insanity of its mindset. Initially, it’s like a creepy invader… stalking its way down to Folly with the intention of inescapably dragging a chosen screaming victim off to a torturous death – even the lesser-model robots that the humans have on their side are no match whatsoever for The Machine’s superlative technology and killer instinct, and thus can offer their fleshy compatriots no real protection beyond distraction.
Later, though, things get much more action-packed as The Machine adopts a role akin to a cross of a Terminator and Predator‘s legendary Hunter. It’s also at this point that the real gory stuff begins, and from there Bad Code rushes headlong down the kill list with nothing on its mind but entertaining you. And that it does.
Dovey’s prose works best when he keeps it simple in this particular novel, and with only a few moments of stunted exposition or overly flowery language to be found he does an admirable job of keeping it together. A big problem, however, is an apparent lack of proofreading before publication. Grammatical errors, typos and instances where a word has obviously been substituted without fixing those next to it pop up much more frequently than makes for totally comfortable reading – especially when the pacing is generally so well handled. The finale, too, is much too throwaway a moment – The Machine’s final motivations (and quite a thematically important point of the story) delivered in an awkwardly on-the-nose, expository manner rather than a more effective descriptive approach. It brings the whole thing to a close with a crashing halt, rather than the necessary bang.
Still, while Bad Code is little more than creative, pulpy schlock, it’s schlock that makes for a fun time curled up with a book and enjoying robots beating the living hell out of each other while ripping fleshy meat bags to pieces. Good times, man. Good times.
- Dread Central I kind of need to read this now.
- One-Eye I had the game on the venerable Commodore64 and it was shit. I could just never figure out how to play it and I got killed every time.
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