Page File Parallel universes are already pretty cool, especially the ones that are tantalisingly close to ours, a mere what if away. The parallel universes of Extinction Game have this and an extra edge going for them, as the only ones we visit are those that have endured an apocalyptic event that’s wiped out most of humanity. Wars, plagues, asteroids, scientists tinkering with things they should damn well leave alone and wiping us all out with their genetic experiments – this book has it all, multiple apocalypses for the price of one.
Rather than explain to us why this is or exactly what’s going on – or any of the science behind it for that matter – Gary Gibson heads straight for the action with clueless hero Jerry Beche. Not only is he not told anything about why he’s been picked up from an Earth where he was the last man standing and dropped off to become one of a group of Pathfinders who travel to other post-apocalyptic worlds in search of random stuff for the vaguely-named Authority, he’s also not that hot on figuring things out.
You’re in a parallel universe and people keep acting like they’ve seen you before? It’s not that hard to work out, mate.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the haplessness of our hero, Extinction Game quickly turns into a rollicking good read. Not sure why or how this scientific thing happened exactly? Doesn’t matter, all our main characters are in the dark, so no-one has to explain it. Instead, it’s on with the adventure, as Jerry desperately tries to figure out what the hell’s going on, who the Authority is and just how they’re making their way from world to world. Plus, what’s with the morbid obsession with Armageddon-drenched worlds?
All of this weighs heavy on Jerry’s mind as he and his band of fellow retrievals from other worlds labour away for the promise of retirement on an Earth similar to their own – but without the whole total global destruction.
Although Jerry is a bit dense at times, in all other respects, he’s a decent clean-cut hero to root for. After taking down the guys who did for his own Earth, he’s pretty handy with the violence, but not so well-trained that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. He’s got a nice piece of pathos running with his beloved dead wife and, naturally, a beautiful sad woman on the Pathfinder gang that he’s inexplicably drawn to. Without getting too far into spoiler country, this relationship is the only thing that strikes a really sour note. After putting forward very, very good reasons why they shouldn’t even want to talk to each other, Gibson rather shoves them at each other towards the end without ever actually dealing with those still existing issues.
Other than that, it’s a gripping adventure yarn, even with all the exasperation at Jerry’s slow detective work. Gibson has good fun hinting at the science behind the various worldwide cataclysms, although he probably gets away with a few holes by not explaining it in detail. The Pathfinders’ responses to repeatedly being exposed to dead worlds and the worst of humanity is also ably dealt with, as various members of the team descend into melancholy, alcohol, violence and/or rage.
The book is the first in a new series for the writer, who previously penned space-faring trilogy The Shoal Sequence and wormhole travel double Final Days. His previous books have featured harder sci-fi elements, so there’s hope that the next instalment of the series will educate Jerry enough to up the calibre of the science somewhat and move things along a touch more swiftly. Even without that, Extinction Game is fun enough to warrant a perusal of the next novel anyway. ®
Title Extinction Game
Publisher Pan Macmillan
Price £18.99 (Hardback)
More info Publisher's website