Book review: Pacific Rim adds to the film

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Pacific Rim novelization audiobook

The monster-versus-robot action movie “Pacific Rim” (2013) was subsequently novelized by Andrew Irvine.  Before reviewing the book version, a recap of the film may help.

I saw the movie “Pacific Rim” after it was released for home video.  For the life of me, two or three years later, I can’t remember a single scene.  It’s not that I remember it being bad.  It’s that I don’t remember it at all.

I have a theory on why the movie left no lasting impact on me.  Unlike “King Kong” and “Godzilla,” there wasn’t a single kaiju (monster) in “Pacific Rim” to focus on.  There were a half a dozen.  None stood out.  I think “Pacific Rim” tried to compensate for this by turning Gipsy Danger, the main robot, into a central “character.”  That may have worked visually in the movie, but in the novelization, Gipsy Danger is difficult to picture.  There are minimal if any descriptions of the robot’s appearance (color, size, shape, etc).  If Gipsy Danger was intended to be a character, she was a sadly flat one in the book.

Secondly, the human characters in the movie were cookie cutter.  On that score, the novelization made much more of an impact.  The backgrounds of the characters are laid out carefully and are well-explored.  There was more nuance to the Stacker Pentecost character (the officer in charge of war robot operations) in the book than I recall in the movie.  The relationship between robot ranger Raleigh Beckett and the female lead, Mako Mori, was engaging.  The B-story of Dr. Newt Geiszler’s attempt to mind-meld with a kaiju were a bit silly, even off-putting, but good for a chuckle.

The book was also more effective than the movie in establishing the reason why robots were the most effective means of fighting the kaiju (as opposed to conventional or nuclear tactics).  A book format gave the author more latitude to describe the context and historical background of the international defense against the monsters.  The premise is still cheesy and contrived, but for some reason it was easier to swallow in the book.

The author used very vivid language and sharp comparisons to convey complex science fiction type material succinctly.  Fight scenes, which can be easier to choreograph than to write, were handled well.  On the basis of the colorful writing, I would definitely read another Alex Irvine book.

I listened to the novelization in audio format.  Narrator Christian Rummel did impressive, captivating work as the narrator.

Pacific Rim is fun.  If the movie didn’t float your boat, you might enjoy the book a little more.

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Book review: Island 731 delivers non-stop chills

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A 2014 bio-thriller

In Jeremy Robinson’s thriller Island 731, an ecological expedition in the Pacific runs aground on an unknown island.  A crewmate flees and Hawkins, a hero who earlier survived a grizzly bear attack, sets out to find him.  Hawkins and his love interest, the risk-taking Joliet, plunge inland despite initial signs of danger.

Why their geeky but likable crewmate Kam would have run away makes no sense at first.  Hawkins and Joliet speculate that Kam went into hiding after killing another crewmate:

“That’s my best theory.”

Joliet sagged.  “I came up with the same thing.  Do you really think Kam would run?  If it was an accident—”

The search is complicated as Hawkins and Joliet quickly learn that the island is teeming with dangerous lifeforms that are blends of more than one species.  The discovery of an island with previously undiscovered creatures makes this thriller reminiscent of The Land That Time Forgot.  And like Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic, the threats to the protagonists aren’t only from the island’s beasts, but from frictions within the marooned crew.

An island full of chimeras is exciting, foreboding, and mysterious.  It creates a great, dark atmosphere.  That being said, some of the chimeras have so many progenitors that they are difficult to visualize.  For example, one chimera has a face with features from a bat, goat, tiger, and crocodile.  Tough to picture.

The search leads the main characters into more danger and closer to the truth of the island.  Without giving any spoilers, Robinson’s work shows a broad familiarity with biology, history, and conspiracy theories.  Island 731 delivers plausibly on these themes.  There is some background and technical information that must be conveyed for the story to make sense, but Robinson handles those passages economically without retarding the action.

The characters are engaging.  Larger-than-life villains and bald faced evil make for an ambitious book, but Robinson pulls it together.  Hawkins’s jovial sidekick Bray is fun, and the romance between Hawkins and Joliett is well done.

Parts of the book are gruesome:  one character is crucified hanging from his own entrails.  “Patients” are dissected alive.  If you didn’t like the bloody, gross-out scenes of the movie “Saw,” this may not be the right book for you.

Some thrillers have great beginnings and the action falls apart toward the end or doesn’t pay off.  That’s not the case with Island 731.  The action builds throughout and the stakes get higher toward the end.  Robinson has a good sense for plot, pace, tension, and momentum.  The characters are always on the move and run into one obstacle after another.

For readers who are drawn to thrillers because they enjoy non-stop thrills and chills, look no further.  If you’ve got a dark streak, you’ll want to bring this apocalyptic island adventure on your next cruise.