Splinter Cell: Fallout (David Michaels)
Splinter Cell: Fallout shifts the focus of the tie in series quite a bit, moving from the two more character focused opening novels to an entirely action driven novel more like the plot of one of the games. The change is a good one considering how bad the first books were, especially the one that saw Sam Fisher get himself entangled in an ill advised romantic relationship. Throw in more realistic action sequences, a fun segment that channels Indiana Jones, and a simple but entertaining plot, and you have all the ingredients for a summer blockbuster style novel.
The plot concerns Sam's efforts to investigate the murder of a man exposed to dire amounts of radiation, which then leads him on a trail up to a major worldwide conspiracy to destroy much of the world's untapped oil reserves. His travels take him from infiltrating a crime boss's lavish mansion, to boarding a mysterious cargo ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during a storm, to exploring the jungles of Africa in search of a long lost plane wreck. There is quite a bit of variety in the locales and the action itself. In Africa, the book takes on more of an adventurous pace, with Sam desperately trying to find the wreck before the Kyrgyz can get their hands on it, while the crime boss parts are more slow tempo stealth missions, and the end game in North Korea and Kyrgyzstan is a totally chaotic and urgent military thriller. This wide array of conflict helps to make up for the simple and mostly uninteresting main plot, and it is a good test of the author's abilities to see so many different styles getting touched upon in this book.
I spent a lot of time detailing the action and exotic locales because these are far more enjoyable than the plot itself. It revolves around some MacGuffin that can destroy oil, an organic substance hastily explained and I suspect very implausible in the real world. A crazy bunch of Muslim extremists in Kyrgyzstan want to acquire samples of this so they can annihilate their oil reserves and those of the countries near them in a big protest against the world's increasing reliance on technology or something. The bottom line is that the story doesn't make much sense, but there are plenty of cool action scenes, many of which do make plenty of sense, and if you are willing to just not think about any potential science behind the plot device, you will find the story to be an enjoyable enough affair.
Unlike in Operation Barracuda and the first novel, Fallout doesn't try to do much of anything with the characters. The hook of the plot does lead to some very enjoyable back story for Sam's childhood, but otherwise this book stays out of his head. Even Sarah, his daughter, gets no more than a token mention or two. While I would've liked something more impactful to come of Sam's characterization in this book, it is much better than in Barracuda where he was basically an American James Bond and substantially different from the source character. He does get to spout off some fun catchphrases and one liners though, a small part of his character from the games, and his more cautious nature while sneaking about is much appreciated.
The people feeding him information from back home don't end up with a lot of face time, but they are reasonably effective. Lambert, Grimsdottir, and Redding (from Chaos Theory) make up Sam's support net, and he also meets with a handful of informants that are generally simple but colorful characters. As for our villain, a crazy Kyrgyz radical named Bolot Omurbai, he is a very one dimensional character that works well in the context of the plot. His plan to turn back the technological level of the world is a competent one, and the North Korean connection helps to add some much needed depth to his otherwise single minded goals.
While far from an elegant read, the prose of Fallout is a significant step up for the series. Action scenes are brisk and enjoyable when the situation demands it, but more often they are a slower paced and methodical operation with Sam in complete control. Close calls and unexpected movements build the tension in this book, not hyperbolic chase scenes. This is more in the vein of what Sam is actually trying to do, and having him try to evade capture and sneak about is far more compelling than just having him dodge tons of bullets. There is quite a bit of overindulgent exposition though, particularly related to the various gadgets at Sam's disposal, there is a lot of phrase repetition, and this book doesn't try to connect with its settings in any meaningful way, but just refining the action to fit the spirit of the series was more than enough for me to enjoy reading this book.
Fallout is not an innovative book by any means. It is a fairly cut and dry adventure that would be well at home as a plot for one of the games, but compared to the other two books I've read from this series, it is a massive improvement. Fallout is good for a bit of light (late) summer reading, with its simplistic plot, light hearted dialogue, and strong action sequences, but it is not a very substantive work. I can't really recommend it, but you could do far worse.