I’ll preface this review by admitting I’ve not actually played Dead Space, its sequel or any of the myriad pieces of interactive fluff released by EA to promote… or should I say expand the universe. I have, however, seen enough of the multimedia tie-ins and gameplay (watching ‘Let’s Play Dead Space‘ and the like on YouTube, and sitting with friends as they played it) to have a pretty firm grasp of the story, or at least as firm a grasp as one can attain upon something which seems fundamentally batshit insane.
In the speculative future world of Dead Space, a spacefaring humankind discovers a monolithic artifact of presumably alien origin known as The Marker, in doing so setting in motion a series of horrific outbreaks of mass hysteria, carnage and mutation of the dead into walking monstrosities whose only goal appears to be the proliferation of their kind from the handily available humans that come later in search of The Marker. There’s also something about a decidedly cultish sect who believe in a phenomenon called Convergence, which ties in somehow with the effects of The Marker.
I’ll be honest and say that all the bumph about Convergence and Unitology just seemed to me to be little more than gloss coating on what is admittedly a solid, thrilling and utterly disgusting third person shooter, but Dead Space: Martyr – being an origin story for the whole franchise – appeared to offer some measure of an explanation for the actions of the Unitologists, not to mention a coherent origin story for The Marker itself.
The martyr mentioned in the book’s title is one Michael Altman. Altman’s name will be known to those who played the first game as the founder of the Unitologists, but as the book begins he is a relatively humble geophysicist working on Earth in an unremarkable job he only really took in order to follow his girlfriend to Latin America.
Altman is bored and restless at work until he detects what to most people might be a signal malfunction or interference coming from a vast oceanic crater. At the same time, there are reports of strange and horrible creatures showing up on the coast around the crater. All of these factors pique Altman’s curiosity, leading him to pick away at something that certain influential people might prefer remained hidden.
Unlike the games, in which you are thrown almost instantaneously into the gore-soaked mayhem, Dead Space: Martyr builds deliberately slowly. The first quarter of the book is mostly intrigue, but soon enough the characters start to display signs of psychosis, with violence not far behind. Most of the narration comes from the perspective of Altman himself, but at key points we become privy to the thoughts of almost every significant player in the story, more often than not when they are succumbing to the madness that usually indicates they’re about to meet an unpleasant end.
B. K. Evenson is a prolific author and former Mormon who left the church and his former job after controversy over the “graphic” and “brutal” content of his first book in 1994. His works often contain a great deal of psychological drama and violence, which arguably made him ideal for penning the story that would kick off the Dead Space mythos. Dead Space: Martyr contains relatively little of the Necromorphs that characterise the video games until quite late on, but the way Evenson describes the fragile, questionable and almost universally deteriorating sanity of Marytr’s cast is subtle and unnervingly effective.
Although this book goes some way to explaining the origins of the Necromorphs and the Unitology religion, I was still a little perplexed by the end. I suppose you might say it’s a testament to the mysterious and maddening nature of The Marker that when Martyr comes to an end you’re still not entirely sure what exactly just happened, but all the same I would have preferred a story that stands on its own without the need to read or play any of the other media in the franchise. All the same, I think Evenson did a great job with this story, keeping faithful to what had come before and using effective, chilling prose to keep you gripped throughout.
Unlike some of the other Dead Space tie-ins, Martyr is a worthwhile addition to the franchise and definitely deserving of your time if you enjoy sci-fi/horror page-turners.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback. Release Date: Out now.