X-Files: Ground Zero (Kevin J. Anderson)
The X-Files: Ground Zero is the fifth and penultimate novel released as a tie in to the popular TV franchise. It has many of the same qualities as the previous works, which I have both liked (Skin, Ruins) and hated (Antibodies,) and therefore those expecting a legitimately unique view of the characters and the universe will be disappointed. Ground Zero does deliver a fun plot built on an intriguing premise, but it is fairly shallow and lacks most of the intrigue of the TV show.
Ground Zero concerns a new nuclear program, Project Anvil, and the mysterious murders of some of the personnel involved in its development. Mulder and Scully are assigned to the case and spend a large amount of the story hunting down clues, conducting interviews, and performing autopsies as they try to solve the case. This segment functions exactly as you would expect, with plenty of red herrings, crackpot theories, and deceitful witnesses to prolong the plot's rising action. It isn't a bad set up for our finale, but it is a bit formulaic, relying a bit too much on the structure of the show without doing anything to stand out. Their investigations eventually lead them to uncover more details about Project Anvil, and they head to the pacific to investigate what they believe is an upcoming detonation of the nuke.
The set up starts to get a bit ridiculous as the project lead decides that the best way to cover up evidence of a nuclear explosion will be to test it in the middle of a massive typhoon. I'm not sure who he thinks he is going to fool by doing this, as devastation caused by weather doesn't look anything like a nuclear blast, and there are plenty of other effects of a nuclear blast that don't concern radiation (Anvil's major benefit is that it is fallout free, something that project director Bear Dooley describes while spouting implausibly naive lines about how the government is sure to be responsible with this new technology) so in terms of plausibility and suspension of disbelief, the story dies an ugly death here, but there is still plenty to enjoy here. Our heroes finally meet up with the surprisingly benevolent antagonist and fill in most of the gaps in the mystery, though the agents soon find themselves in mortal peril with seemingly no way of escape.
The cataclysmic conclusion is interesting and mostly befitting of the show, but the weak setup, and obvious cop out nature of the solution (island about to get destroyed, use reinforced boat that we brought to the island to escape) hinder an otherwise strong finale. We finally get a glimpse of Skinner, and a taste of yet another government cover up with its fair share of loose ends. Overall I'd say the plot could have been better in terms of complexity and mystery, but as a paint by numbers monster of the week episode, it works well enough.
Our cast of characters, as ever, revolves around the interaction between Mulder and Scully. As with Kevin J. Anderson's previous offerings to the franchise, the two don't get a great portrayal here, with Mulder being too much of a clown, joking in even the most inappropriate of times and for the stupidest of reasons, and Scully being completely lifeless. There is an attempt to add some original character development by mentioning Scully's past and near life changing decision to enter the world of political activism during her college years, but it never amounts to much, and Mulder remains ignorant of it for the entire book, foregoing the opportunity for a heated discussion between the two about something other than a case. The rest of the book's cast is composed of the usual roundup of hapless victims, power hungry scientists, and clueless sycophants, though there is one stand out. The main antagonist for the book is a survivor of a nuclear bomb test that killed the rest of his islander tribe and left him blind and hideously scarred. Tormented by the voices of his fallen kinsman, the man is driven to eliminate key members of the ongoing nuclear testing program to ensure that such outrages never happen again. The character is a perfect example of the tragic villain and he works well within the context of the story, illustrating the evil that comes up on both sides of the issue with the supernatural flair so essential to the X-Files.
The writing in Ground Zero is pretty bad, but nothing surprisingly so when matched against Mr. Anderson's previous offerings. There is a complete lack of tension in this book, and the more mysterious events are described in the least imaginative of ways. The nuclear ash that forms the backbone of the plot is somewhat confusing, being poorly explained and ineptly described, using the same phrases over and over again with little effect. Combine this with the heavy handed attempts at both humor and morality, bland dialogue with almost no interplay between Scully and Mulder, and an impeccably boring writing style, and you get yet another mostly inoffensive but totally uninteresting work by Mr. Anderson.
Ground Zero isn't anything special, and far from a must read piece of literature for people who don't have an interest in the show. Even those who love the show will want to temper their expectations, as you are getting an inconsistent and static portrayal of the main characters in a typical and uninspiring adventure. Good for a mild entertainment, with a premise that was interesting but undeveloped, Ground Zero can be safely skipped by just about anyone.