Resident Evil: Caliban Cove (S.D. Perry)
Caliban Cove is the second book in the Resident Evil franchise, and the first original story. Set in a distant locale and featuring only one character from the established universe, Caliban Cove does a great job of continuation some of the dangling plot lines from the first book, The Umbrella Conspiracy, while crafting a new and entertaining tale that makes for a short but mostly satisfying read.
The opener is one of my favorite aspects of the entire book. We learn about how the survivors of the Spencer Mansion are dealing with the events that transpired there, and how Umbrella is conspiring to keep their research a secret. Fan favorites Barry Burton, Jill Valentine, and Chris Redfield make key appearances here, though the rest of the book is driven by Rebecca Chambers and a cast of original characters. The foreboding, conspiratorial tone of the opening fifty pages, set against the backdrop of a scared and confused city, is a perfect way to start the novel, and is highlighted by an explosive gun fight that brings home the idea that Umbrella will go to any cost to cover up their mistakes. After this, the surviving S.T.A.R.S are easily convinced by fellow S.T.A.R.S. Captain David Tripp to wage a war against Umbrella and bring their wrongdoing into the national spotlight. Mr. Tripp proposes a raid on an alleged research facility at Caliban Cove to accomplish this task, and from the group of four, he enlists Rebecca to join his team.
The rest of the book concerns the efforts of Rebecca and company to infiltrate Caliban Cove and discover evidence to incriminate Umbrella, while attempting to survive the usual (though underwhelming) assortment of mad scientists, new creatures, and cryptic puzzles. Trent from the first novel makes a cameo appearance here to help push his storyline along, and he provides the impetus behind the story by providing a indecipherable document that begins to make more sense as the team spends time at Caliban. It is a very fast paced affair, clocking in at only around 240 pages and utilizing a brisk writing style that makes it feel like half that, though there is a good amount of content here. From about the eightieth page to the conclusion, the book is nonstop action to survive the horrors of Caliban Cove and expose Umbrella, and despite feeling a bit formulaic (squad infiltrates another building, clears it, solves puzzle, and so on) it is a fast paced and mostly enjoyable read, at least where plot is concerned.
This cast of original characters, headed by David and rounded out by three of his squadmates, is your garden variety military special ops team, though the author does a great job of building up some of the characters. David seems like a strong presence, but in an interesting twist becomes plagued by self doubt, uncertainty, and second guessing for much of the novel. It is a welcome break from the typical cool under fire character, and his unsteadiness brings some much needed tension to the group dynamic. John, a character that gets relegated to the wisecracking smartass role a bit too readily for my tastes, actually gets a very nicely done, yet subtle romantic sub plot with teammate Karen. Karen isn't much of a character, but she quickly becomes sympathetic through her ordeal later in the book. The final member of the squad, Steve, is totally faceless except for a forced and ill advised attempt at romance with Rebecca. Nothing about it feels natural as we don't really get any sense of connection between the two before they start holding hands in the middle of the evil scientist's labs, and Steve is such a painfully boring character that the relationship never comes to life even after this event. Rebecca is a character I just can't get behind. As the only game character to appear, this book was poised to become her vehicle in much the same way that the prequel novel Zero Hour was. Much like Zero Hour, the utter perfection of the character prevents any kind of development or sympathy for her plight. At merely 18 3/4ths years old, Rebecca is already: completely mature, a great shot, an expert chemist, unflappable under fire, charismatic, the team medic, loved by everyone she meets, and so on. I can't think of a single thing the character does wrong, or any character flaws that even threaten to manifest themselves. At least fellow game stars Jill Valentine (criminal background) and Chris Redfield (abrasive, somewhat immature) have actual flaws.
One of my main problems with the book is the ridiculous antagonists at work. We are introduced to trisquads, which are basically three man teams of gun toting zombies. That's right, zombies with guns. The same awful concept seemingly at use in the upcoming Resident Evil 6 was used in this book, and it fails for many of the same reasons. Zombies that retain some of their higher function just aren't fun, they lack the same intimidation factor that those without any sort of mind have. Additionally, zombies lunging at you from the shadows are infinitely scarier than zombie soldiers (who are apparently horrible shots.) The author ratchets this up a level by introducing another strain of zombie that can actually speak and appear to be somewhat normal, even taking orders from the evil mastermind that developed the virus at Caliban Cove. These zombies play an important factor late in the story, and again, the menacing/horror factor just isn't there.
Of course, every Resident Evil story has to have a mad scientist/Umbrella employee to serve as the human face of evil, and Caliban Cove is no different. Dr. Griffith is your stereotypical bad guy that thinks he is doing good for the world. Most of the time he is just sitting around and brooding, or ordering his not-zombies to do things for him. When he finally comes into contact with our heroes, he decides to monologue endlessly and stuff them in an airlock while water cycles in. In a finale more reminiscent of James Bond than Resident Evil, our heroes avoid their painfully slow, poorly conceived deaths by the narrowest of margins, and Dr. Griffith establishes his place in the pantheon of all time stupid villains. There are only two other kinds of antagonists: an incredibly poorly explained dog/snake hybrid, and somewhat intimidating sea monsters that show up for about 10 pages. Not an impressive showing, as no type of zombie from the games, not even the garden variety brain eater, makes an appearance here.
Due to the lack of terrifying new/returning creatures, the book lacks the scary/tense feel of the original. The plot is rushed and more puzzle dependant than I would have liked, although the puzzles at work here translate much better than the ones transplanted from the games in the other books. Despite the lack of fearsome opponents, the author does a great job of visualizing a depraved and gruesome setting that manages to hit on all the familiar notes while feeling fresh and original. Horror writing does come into play while depicting the rapid and horrifying decline of a team member infected with the virus in what is easily the most gripping plot line introduced after the shadowy opening. Mostly though, the book is an action oriented, extremely fast paced romp through a series of buildings constituting the research facility at Caliban Cove. The book has more in common with the latter Resident Evil games with their quick time events and emphasis on action than the comparatively slower, survival horror based originals. It is by no means a bad book, and mechanically sound in the same way that the previous book was, just not what one would expect from an earlier work in the series.
Caliban Cove is a solid showing by author S.D. Perry, but it could have been substantially better. Overcoming a terribly boring protagonist, derivative antagonists, and pacing more fitting for an action novel than the brooding survival horror that Resident Evil does best, the novel is a light, quick read that ultimately gets more right than it does wrong.