For the past 30 years, Alan Dean Foster has been solidly earning his place in the SF Hall of Fame. He wrote the Star Wars novelization (graciously letting George Lucas take the credit) and the first official SW sequel, Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye. He wrote the original story treatment for Star Trek: The Motion Picture while JJ Abrams was still in short pants. And he has dozens of original novels to his name, including a long-running series featuring the adventurers Pip and Flinx.
There’s only one explanation for the man’s prolific output. He’s a Decepticon.
Think about it. Who else but a devious robot could churn out so much workmanlike prose, taking simply-written blueprints for movies (screenplays) and fashioning them into 300-page books? There’s something mechanical about the way he writes The Veiled Threat, a prequel to the new Transformers movie. The human characters are functional, not three-dimensional. The descriptions show that Foster’s done his research – he loves to travel – but although we learn what botspots in Zambia, Peru and the Australian Outback look like, he never explains what it really feels like to be there.
As a novel in its own right, The Veiled Threat is a pretty lifeless read. There’s a sense that Foster’s killing time between action set pieces. The heroes are likeable enough, particularly those we know from the first movie; Tech Sergeant Epps and Captain Lennox both feature strongly. They’re joined by geeks and nerds who are trained to kill, Kami Ishihara and Petr Andronov, at NEST (Networked Elements: Supporters and Transformers). Kami and Petr also help add a human element to a book full of giant robot battles. But readers will find themselves caring more about Optimus Prime, Beachbreak or Kickback than they do about the fleshies.
Foster may be miserly with his character development, but he knows how to create cinematic visuals: a tense struggle between Prime and Macerator on the brink of Victoria Falls, Payload firing at Salvage as he attempts to patch up a Zambian dam, a climactic tussle in a major historical monument.
Transformers fans will enjoy the appearance of a convoy’s worth of Autobots and Decepticons, arriving on Earth to join Optimus Prime or Starscream, respectively. Foster isn’t afraid to use, abuse or even wreck some old favorites, including Ironhide, Ratchet, Longarm and Ruination. Although Sam Witwicky and Mikaela Banes don’t appear in this story – Sam’s gone off to college with Bumblebee – ex-Agent Seymour Simmons is present, tinkering with leftover sections of Frenzy. And while Megatron lies ruined at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, some of his followers seek enough energy to reignite his spark. So Threat dovetails neatly into the next movie.
If readers can get past Foster’s robotic prose and the wordy speech of his characters, they’ll find memorable images that will sate them until Revenge Of The Fallen rolls out.