Space, the final frontier. Or the place where it all begins (and sometimes where it all ends; eventually both). And by all, I mean stories like The Forgotten.
When it comes to space travel, different authors and subgenres deploy different world views. Space Opera, for example, doesn’t much care about physical limits. Faster than Light? Pfft, if our heroes need to cross the universe in the blink of an eye, so be it!
There are a lot of authors who take different roads. Cryogenic sleep chambers is one way to take people on a very long journey, spanning centuries or millennia. The other one is the arc concept, where the people starting the journey will never arrive, but their descendants will. This is the scenario we’re dealing with in this book. (They call it generation ship instead of arc, but hey, tomayto, tomahto.)
I want to talk about the atmosphere first. The people populating the spaceship Pilgrim know almost nothing about their ship. They have limited access to the systems, and they are living in an enclosed and encapsulated part of the ship. As far as they know, everything outside their part of the ship – called Metro – is automated. No way out of metro except for hatches which cannot be opened. But the public computer system was corrupted a while back, so details are unclear, hazy or simply unknown.
I love this backdrop for our story! M.R. Forbes sets the mood just right, and there is a nitty, gritty feeling to all of it. The Metro we experience is a world edging to the brink of dying, with more and more systems failing every day. This world feels authentic, down to small and seemingly random details. That’s great! I mean it’s terrible for the people inhabitating this world, but it’s a great background for us readers!
Plot wise, the usual stuff happens. It turns out they are not alone on the ship (who would have thought?), there are (alien) monsters on a killing spree (and other humans), and maybe the computer data wasn’t corrupted at all, rather deleted on purpose. Whom can you trust? Because some monsters might be human after all.
Sherrif Hayden Duke, apparently, is a trustworthy guy, trying to shed light unto these mysteries. (Also the story is told from his point of view, so we better follow along.) And while he is content in his world (and somewhat blind to the faults within the system) at one moment, he’s turning out a heap of badassery the next.
Really, at some point I realize I must have skipped that part when he took the Bruce Willis crash course on being a smartass action hero. But that doesn’t matter, because the pace is tight and someone needs to kick (alien monster) ass anyway.
I’m mentioning Bruce Willis here for a reason, because he’s the prototype of the 80s action hero delivering justice with a side dish of smartass commentary. (If you want evidence, please watch exhibit A: Last Boy Scout. Thank you.) And Hayden breaks up the tension sometimes by delivering one liners that are really worthy of the aforementioned movies.
There are other “classic” themes I suspected from this kind of literature. Like, are the alien monsters really alien in origin? What was the true purpose of the colony ship? If you’re a genre fan, chance is there’s probably not much here to surprise you. But it’s mixed together well.
At some point, the genre cliches start to pile up. The hybernated scientist, crazy ubersoldier mutagen (it’s not used, by the way, just mentioned) – it’s starting to look like a computer action game. Somewhere between dead space and doom. Which is not bad per se (I like me some action games), but it was not what I expected when I started the book.
Luckily enough, the action is well written. Fast paced, tense, heartbeat rising. At this point I decided to forget about the science fiction part (especially the science part), and instead grabbed some popcorn to enjoy the show. Because right there at the end, the outer corridors of the Pilgrim are turning into carnage reincarnate. Our Sheriff is caught between a rock and a hard place, namely the alien hounds and the humans that have been living outside his Metro for almost four centuries. And like the good 80s action hero he is, he’s going to fight them all, even cauterizing his own arm stump with a laser gun. Because 80s action heroes were no grepping whimps.
Where does that leave us? The promise of the book is wrong, and it seems like two non matching parts. The first part is science fiction, and I really liked that very much. The second part is a splatter movie/action game, and while it clearly delivers on that front, it feels like we mixed something up in the middle of the book . It’s still good, though, if you have a knack for this kind of action (you’ll have to brace the longest prelude of all times, though). I say 3 out of 5 stars, solid, not bad, but not outstanding either.
And yes, like 80s action movies, there’s a sequel. A trilogy even, and I’ll be watching, ehm, reading the rest of it, too.