Gears of War: Aspho Fields
by Karen Traviss
Review by Andrew Brooks
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345499431
Date: 28 October 2008 List Price $13.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ah, the novel adaptation of a popular video game. Tread carefully here, non-gamer readers. Karen Traviss' Gears of War: Aspho Fields is based on the video game Gears of War. If you didn't know that before reading it here, steer clear of this book. Would that I'd been able to do the same. In my experience video game novelizations are definitely hit or miss, depending on your familiarity with game. They're add-ons, filler for what a person who's played the game kinda sort already knows. Aspho Fields is no different.
The last human settlement on Sera is facing a mass of the Locust Horde and the Gears are gearing up for one hell of a battle. Couldn't resist the pun. But chances are that any of you who've played the game beforehand had that figured out already. So what Traviss attempts to do is explain a little bit of the back story for Gears of War-in other words this novel is more a set up for the second game that came out last fall. And I'm not sure how she manages seeing as I've never played the game, and the descriptions of Sera and the Locusts themselves are a bit vague. Turns out the baddies don't really look like giant insects. Aspho Fields reads as an heavy on the action, light on the exposition novel, and I found myself bored throughout.
Traviss is an excellent writer. Please, let me get that out of the way and forestall any forthcoming fan boy attacks. But, as she is when writing in the Star Wars universe, Traviss is handcuffed. Working in someone else's sandbox. The novel suffers for it, and any chance at truly creating something interesting is gone before the first word is typed. Do I suspect she had some leeway? Sure. However, how deep can you take a story based on a game that is all about kicking butt and chain-sawing the beejeebers out of aliens anyway? No, I suspect Traviss put a solid effort in to trying. I just didn't enjoy the reading of that work.
There are a few solid things in this novel, don't get me wrong, but most of them have to do with Traviss' writing mechanics. The woman knows how to write action sequences, and she convincingly portrays the main characters' war weary pysches. Too, her dialogue rarely comes across as wooden and unrealistic.
Listen, this will be the last video game novelization I pick up. I hear some of you applauding that, and that's fine and fair. But these kinds of books only seem to work for players and fans of whatever video game world they're based on. Yes, doi!, but still. If you're looking for something with space marines there's plenty out there, and with a lot more oompf as well. Pick up Old Man's War if that's what you're craving. Unless you've played this game until your hands cramp avoid this one. There's better stuff out there.