Impressions: Dead Space Martyr

Title: Dead Space Martyr
Author: B.K. Evenson
Release Date: July 2010
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
Number of Pages: 416
Price: $14.99

It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that Dead Space is not the first videogame franchise to capitalize on other forms of entertainment – Resident Evil and HALO  both immediately come to mind.  However, Dead Space is really the first videogame franchise that I am continually excited to see make the transition from game controller to animated movie and now into written format.  Beyond the fact that Dead Space reinvigorated the survival horror genre it is also clearly inspired by some of the greatest horror sci-fi movies ever made (and 2 of my all time favorites): Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Dead Space Martyr was published just shy of 2 years after the original Dead Space videogame – more than enough time for me to become an incredible fan of the franchise through repeated play-throughs, including the then Wii-exclusive Dead Space Extraction.  Still, however many times I took that wild ride through the desolate corridors of the USG Ishimura I’ve always found myself wanting more – primarily more of a back story.  What is the Black Marker and where did it come from?  Who is Michael Altman and what was the genesis for the Church of Unitology?

Established well into the Earth’s future, but still years prior to the events of Dead Space, Martyr begins off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.  Michael Altman is an intelligent, hard-working geophysicist who has discovered an unusual signal emanating from the ocean depths and center of the volcanic Chixculub crater.  As this signal increases from simple anomaly to persistent occurrence Altman’s interest in its source nears obsessiveness.

It doesn’t take long for this scientific discovery to involve the likes of your typical clandestine and military-like organization.  Fashioned after Weyland-Yutani of the Alien saga the Dredger Corporation immediately inserts itself into the equation and assumes the role of greed and corruption.  But like most situations where greed is involved Dredger has set its sight on that which is best left alone.

As the Marker’s signal intensifies it affects all involved and moves ever closer to humanity’s ultimate “Convergence”.  Painful headaches evolve into incredible hallucinations of loved ones long since dead.  These visions of the deceased bring with them messages – stay away from the Marker.  But are these warnings or a means to an end?  Either way, those affected quickly fall into one of two groups: deranged lunatics with suicidal tendencies or converts to the Marker’s representation of salvation.

Author B. K. Evenson does an admirable job, albeit somewhat lengthy, in presenting the reader with an interesting look at the origins of the Black Marker and the power that it holds over man.  Although his prose tends to lean toward the unimaginative and repetitive, it did hold my interest for most of the 416 pages.  I eventually began to understand the character of Michael Altman and found myself cheering for his otherwise hopeless situation.

The raising of the Black Marker from the depths of the ocean floor for purposes of scientific research could have been summed up much quicker than Evenson chose but it allowed for the time necessary to develop the story of Altman and how he was mostly unaffected by the influences of the Marker.  Because of his strong will Altman becomes the unwilling “leader” of the Marker’s followers.  This provides for an interesting dichotomy as the story nears its end.  On the one hand Michael Altman has discovered the Marker’s design for humanity’s convergence and desperately tries to deflect our destruction.  At the same time, because of his ability to directly interact with the alien device, he becomes regarded as a messiah figure by the growing masses of converts.

Not much of a page turner Martyr’s pacing was to be desired.  Leading up to the final chapters of the novel Martyr read more like an episode of Biography than a survival-horror videogame tie-in.  Then, from out of nowhere, I found myself reading Altman’s desperate attempt to survive the Necromorph horde.  After several hundred slowly-paced pages this sudden change in plot felt forced and out of place.  I got the distinct impression that Electronic Arts had a last-minute “sit down” with B. K. Evenson to remind him of why Dead Space was a success: blood an guts.  This drastic change, although not altogether unwelcome, just didn’t seem to work with the rest of the story.  Still, I understand the need for the introduction of the Necromorph but, for better effect, it should have been toned down significantly.

The term martyr is defined as a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion.  **Spoiler Alert** – Michael Altman most certainly suffers death.  What remains in question is exactly how “willing” he actually was.  Altman’s demise was a predictable ending to an otherwise unremarkable story.  Although I was hoping for a significantly more involved tale I wasn’t completely disappointed with Dead Space Martyr.  I would, however, only recommend this novel to those die-hard Dead Space fans – casual gamers of the franchise need not apply.

Altman be praised!

Written by Bill Braun

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