If you’re like me, you’ve already read quite a few books about the end of the world. From my perspective, there are two primary aspects that lure most readers into the pages of a post-apocalyptic adventure. First, there is the character development due to the social and emotional distress of losing everything. I can’t help but wonder how I would react in such an occasion. I probably wouldn’t make it. Second is the credibility of a life threatening trauma behind the apocalypse itself. Giant meteor, nuclear war, alien invasion, zombie outbreak or some unsuspecting natural disaster, we’ve seen them all. The ideal situation is finding a book with both key elements.
Released last week on September 11, 2014 by Tor Books, Extinction Game by Gary Gibson takes a bold look at both of these aspects with a unique viewpoint I have not read before. The major difference here is that we quickly find out the sole survivor is not really alone and the end of the world comes at us in many different forms. Let me explain.
As the human race is brought to near extinction by an EVE virus, Jerry Beche is on the brink of madness as he struggles with the notion of being the last person alive. But he gets what might be a second chance at humanity when a team of Pathfinders, other survivors of parallel universes who also survived their own Earth’s destruction. Under the direction of the mysterious organization known as the Authority, the Pathfinders are sent through transport stages to other worlds to retrieve data and technologies derived from those cataclysms. No longer alone and once again bridled with a purpose, Beche becomes the ultimate survivor as he explores knew dying worlds.
Believability begins with the story. What makes Extinction Game stand apart from other apocalyptic works is the broad range of fast paced disasters left to author Gibson’s disposal. Pun intended. By leaving the book open to multiple dilemmas, the technical discrepancies that often plague narrow focused works is avoided here because the reader is not allowed to dwell too long in one place. The action comes at you from all directions but at a complimentary pace, just enough to keep the readers on their toes.
Some writers also tend to overcompensate with pace to keep the story form becoming stagnant. If too forced, it can weaken the believability. This could have happened here with the handling of the mysterious people behind the Authority and the unknown motive that drives their need to seek out information from the other alternate Earths. At first there was some concern about how compliant the protagonist was to join the Pathfinders with so little information. But Gibson kept the integrity of the character by showing his frustration at being kept in the dark.
If the main character questions a situation, it allows the reader will relax a little and not feel alone. Sometimes, an unreliable narrator is the most reliable element of emotion. With his continued questioning of the background of his Pathfinder companions and the game being played by the controlling Authority, Gibson allows the reader to accept the lack of knowledge they were presented because Jerry Beche noticed it too.
Lastly, it should also be pointed out that Gibson successfully addresses any concern regarding – if there are multiple universes, there may also be multiple yous. This paradox gives the reader a hint that the characters are indeed expendable. However, this uncertainty is an asset to the overall story as it also helps build an emotional bond between the reader and the characters.
Extinction Game by Gary Gibson is not your ordinary post-apocalyptic adventure. By taking the reader to alternate catastrophic Earths, the dangers are never limited and the notion that the end is near might be the furthest thing from the truth. This being the first installment of a new series, it looks like there are many more disastrous endings to our planet on the horizon.
LIke you Ricky, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I thought it was the most enjoyable SF novel I have read this year (which includes Ann Leckie’s excellent Ancillary Justice). The themes are familiar but the twists and turns in the plot are very cunning and hold genuine surprises. My review is here: http://alastairsavage.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/extinction-game-by-gary-gibson/