Wednesday, 27 May 2009

‘Transformers: The Veiled Threat’ – Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey)


Has it really been two years since the Transformers movie came out? Obviously it has been two years but it somehow feels a bit more recent than that to me. Grey hairs in my beard, and a receding hair line, don’t make me feel quite as old as the fact that two years have passed by almost without me noticing... :o( Anyway...

Unless you’re making a conscious effort not to pay attention to things like this you’ll know that the new Transformers movie is out very soon (doesn’t feel like all that long since the last one...) There’s a novelisation of this, that I’ll get round to reading at some point, and Del Rey have gone the whole hog by releasing a prequel to this. The only problem for me is that ‘The Veiled Threat’ has been written by one Alan Dean Foster, an author whose work I really didn’t enjoy the last time I gave him a go. Still; second chances, and all that, as well as shape changing robots beating each other up seemed reason enough to give him another go. While ‘The Veiled Threat’ was an improvement on his last book, that I read, it still didn’t really do it for me...

The events at the end of the last ‘Transformers’ movie seemed to suggest that the war between Autobots and Decepticons was finally over, if only this were true... New Decepticons have answered Starscream’s call and are working to conquer our planet. Against them stand the Autobots and their human allies, working together to defeat the Decepticons and form an alliance between Autobots and humanity. This is a conflict constantly bubbling under the surface of everyday life but occasionally coming to the fore in a crash of metal and heavy weaponry...

I was worried that ‘The Veiled Threat’ was going to be another case of Alan Dean Foster going off on epic tangents, and using a hundred words when five would do, but I was happy to be proved wrong in this case. ‘The Veiled Threat’ is only two hundred and eighty one pages long so there’s no room for any waffling. What you get instead is a story that is aimed at a definite ending (although this is somewhat open ended, presumably so it can lead straight into ‘Revenge of the Fallen’) and sets out to reach this ending along a straight forward route. I was pleased enough by this development to initially not notice the fact that the plot basically boils down to a mixture of ‘giant robots scrapping’ along with ‘robots and humans getting to know each other’. However, this soon became clear and it was then that I realised...

This kind of thing works so much better either on the big screen or in a comic book.

‘The Veiled Threat’ does contain a number of ‘full on robot smackdowns’ and moments of spectacle, such as a chase through Rome, but I was left thinking it would have been so much better if I could have seen this happening rather than been told what was happening.

For a start, the covert nature of the events in the book mean that there’s a lot of travelling and spy work aimed at getting the enemy in one place. Five minutes screen time (or a couple of panels in a comic book) becomes several pages where discussions are had but not a lot else seems to happen and this really slows things down.

The bottom line though is that events like a confrontation between Optimus Prime and Starscream demand a visual element that a book just can’t convey. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up watching the cartoons (and reading my little brother’s ‘Transformers’ comics) that I feel this way, I don’t know. What I do know is that a paragraph of ‘fight prose’ just didn’t cut it for me in the same way that a fight in either of the movies did (or the comics, Ultra Magnus versus Galvatron was a classic!). I’m pretty good at visualising what’s on the page but that isn’t what ‘Transformers’ is all about as far as I can see.

Alan Dean Foster has gone up in my estimation, with a book that actually goes somewhere, but ‘The Veiled Threat’ is a story that falls by the wayside purely because it’s in the wrong format (in my opinion). I wouldn’t mind seeing it as a comic book but wouldn’t pick it up again in it’s current form.

Six out of Ten.

3 comments:

Salt-Man Z said...

I'll be picking this one up (I own all 6 official Transformer novels up 'til now) but I'm in no rush to do so. I read the prequel and novelization of the first film earlier this year (also by Foster) and they were enjoyable, if nothing special. In fact, I found the human-centered plotline in the first prequel to be more interesting than the robot-based one. At least this time around the terms and mythology are in place, and Foster knows what he's doing: the novelization of the first was obviously written before its prequel, with the novelization at times using working names, like calling the AllSpark the "Energon Cube".

JMT said...

Foster is the king of novelizations of films. In addition, all novelizations of films are written with a working script, not the final script (which means novelizations are typically different from what you see on screen). I love ADF and have been reading his works since 1979.

Graeme Flory said...

I don't think there was a problem with Foster's writing as such, more the subject matter itself and how it translates onto the written page. It just didn't have the same impact as it does in other formats, at least as far as I was concerned...