Friday, August 30, 2013

Shepherd492 reviews: Starcraft: Ghost: Spectres

Starcraft: Ghost: Spectres


Spectres continues the story of special forces superstar Nova Terra, and her efforts on behalf of the Dominion to crush any resistance to the leader, Arcturus Mengsk. In this novel, that resistance presents itself as a series of disappearing ghost agents. They are sent on missions to far-flung worlds, and then vanish without a trace.
It doesn’t take long before we are introduced to the culprits, known as spectres. Formerly ghost agents, the spectres are consuming a gaseous substance called terrazine to bolster their psionic abilities and recover memories lost during the brain-wiping that every ghost undergoes after a successful mission. Headed by Nova’s former flame, Gabriel Tosh, they are now trying to kidnap and convert more ghosts to their cause, with the ultimate aim of overthrowing Mengsk and dismantling the ghost program.
Soon, Nova finds herself up against these old friends, and as the story progresses she begins to feel the effects of terrazine for herself, which leads to quite a moral dilemma for her when some memories from her past begin to resurface. As she battles the ghosts from her past, she must also go toe to toe with this latest threat to Mengsk’s throne.
Spectres is a simple story, but occasionally, it is a good one. Nova’s struggle with her past is a good one, and the opening action sequences are quite fun. Additionally, it has all the lore you’d ever want to fill in Tosh’s mission series in Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty.
More often, however, it is not. Tosh is extremely ineffective as an antagonist. We are shown from the beginning that he’s too unstable and narrow minded to be an effective planner, and it’s told (and later shown) that Nova’s psionic abilities are the match of any spectre, including him. How then, are we supposed to take him seriously as a villain? On the other hand, he works quite well as an anti-hero, and it’s a shame that the book tries to shoehorn him into the villain role because the actual bad guy is relying on a surprising twist reveal to have any sort of impact. Unfortunately that twist, like most of this story, is fairly predictable far in advance. For a book that isn’t relying so heavily on action to have such a predictable story is almost a death knell for its entertainment value, fortunately, above-average characterizations for our two leads does manage to salvage a handful of the weaker moments and provides us with something beyond the story to get excited about.
Nova has come a long way since the events of the first book, and despite being only 18 (on that note, how are we supposed to believe she is just 19 during the events of Starcraft II…come on, she doesn’t look it in game and acts 15-20 years older than that) she’s had a pretty busy life. We get lots of details about her time at the ghost academy, and more insights into a few of her missions, including one that she still harbors deep regrets about. The defining characteristic for her is loyalty. Nova’s fight to recover her old friend and resistance in the face of the spectres’ persuasion and intimaidation solidify a characteristic that we only just glimpsed in the previous book. Spectres is a great example of how to take a characteristic and build an entire character around it, and while she’s lacking in many other areas, just having one defined personality trait is enough to put her among the more interesting characters in this book and the general more Starcraft universe.
Tosh is actually a bit more complex than our protagonist. He is perhaps best defined by his terrazine-induced rages, but there are plenty of other aspects to his character, including his yearning for the old days when he was a member of a team of ghost trainees that included Nova, and his deeply superstitious beliefs that manifest themselves in creepy hallucinations. We get plenty of POV sequences featuring him, which is great for showing one of the most notable character progressions in the entire book: his slow spiral into complete madness and insanity. Tosh’s character in Starcraft II takes on a whole new meaning if you’ve read this book, as we finally get to see the irrationality that Nova could only hint at in-game.
Outside of Nova and Tosh, the rest of the cast is boring and doesn’t contribute much of anything to the story. Our surprise evil-doer couldn’t be any more one-dimensional; he doesn’t even have a motivation beyond “is crazy, does crazy things.” There’s no sense of who this guy is, what he’s capable of, or why we should care about someone who is obviously slated for death sooner rather than later. Kath Toom, our comparatively rational look into the spectre camp, completely bombs. She is written with not much more in mind than providing the aforementioned perspective, and never comes across as particularly capable or interesting. Her most interesting character moment comes at the very end of the book, and, well, let’s just say she isn’t herself by then.
Rounding out the major supporting cast is Mal Kelerchian, a holdover from the previous novel. Of the three major support characters, Mal is pretty easily the best, but in an interesting twist on gender roles, he is given very little to do here besides await rescue from Nova on two different occasions. Still, he is a little more complex than the typical meatheads that populate the Starcraft universe, and his interaction with Nova is varied and shows signs of character development and a future direction, so he is far better from the mess of half-forgotten and wholly cliché characters that populate the rest of the cast.
Author Nate Kenyon draws extensively on his origins as a horror writer to carry this story. He makes great use of ghosts (the kind not featured in the subtitle of this book) to showcase how the terrazine is impacting the minds of its users, including visions of dead and decaying people vividly rendered for maximum creepiness. The ending is also incredibly macabre in a way that Starcraft doesn’t typically channel. These genre elements spice up an otherwise rote, by the numbers novel by presenting a new twist on what Starcraft can be, but the more bread-and-butter elements are sorely lacking.
                The worst offender is his sense of pacing. In a book as lore-heavy as this one, a book arguably created with the intent of establishing background for more popular material, some exposition is inevitable, but Kenyon does a poor job of navigating between informing the reader and boring the reader. There are lots of explanations in this book, occasionally two or three for the same thing, and the biggest culprit of this is the mastermind’s reveal. Instead of clunky dialogue explaining his plans and motivations to his helpless captives, we get something far more exacting and even less useful in about four pages worth of backstory and explanation of who this guy is, what his plan is, and why he’s doing what he’s doing. It comes near the climax of the book, and as you can imagine completely ruins any momentum that may have been building to that point. It doesn’t help that the man’s voice is completely over the top and cheesy. It wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if he started cackling manically and twirling his fancy mustache.
                Combat is a big focus in the Starcraft games, but you wouldn’t get a sense of that from this book. This is more of a dialogue heavy, character building book, with a lot of the tension coming as a result of important discoveries or friction among the various characters. The combat that does take place is fairly boring and reads more like a bad sequence from one of the Star Wars books than anything resembling Starcraft. It’s all superpowers; telekinesis, mind reading, lightning reflexes, and nothing more human or more complex. The strategy that defines Starcraft is thrown out the window in favor of psionic nukes and throwing giant doors at people.
                Kenyon is an improvement over the author of the first novel in this series, Keith R.A. DeCandido, because he avoids the thought-spam that just felt like page filler the first time around, and cuts out almost all of the silly space-profanity that really crushed the credibility of the first book. Regardless, the bad pacing and tepid action scenes leave a lot to be desired, and overall his contributions were merely average at best.
                Spectres has a few strong elements, like horror-novel sensibilities in all the right places and fairly solid characterization for the two leads, but the story itself is quite bland, and the writing is flat in many other places. Players of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty’s excellent campaign will appreciate the insight into terrazine and the dynamic between Tosh and Nova, but if you aren’t interested in wading through a mediocre story for a few bits of background, then you can find far more entertaining books, even within the Starcraft universe.
Final Score
39/100

3 comments:


  1. 7
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