This latest Outlanders started out great. Sorrow Space had a fantastic concept of utilizing what Ellis and Odom started years ago with lost universes, or 'casements' of alternate universes that was very exciting to explore - if done right.
Sorrow Space had a lot going for it. The first half of the book was exciting. Rik Hoskin does some of his best writing here. When Kane, Grant and Brigid are returning from a mission, a glitch in the system lands them in another earth. One that has been utterly destroyed by a hybrid baron that has not gone through 'the change' due to his being on this Dead Earth place, not on the Real Earth. I loved the ghoulish Dark Magistrates! These were basically zombies turned henchmen, who carry these Soul Eaters instead of Sin Eater blasters. The gunsmoke emanating from these blasters were always in the form of howling dead souls. Coo image!
The problem with Sorrow Space is that after this fantastic set-up, it kinda falls flat. After what seemed like the hundredth chase scene, with mainly only 4 Dark Magistrates being utilized here, and ALL of them being apparently horrible shots, always missing Kane and Company a million times, the book started losing its luster. Having come upon a strange and deadly world, with monstrous mags chasing you and trying to kill you - why would Kane and Grant hold back on killing them? OK, they wanted to capture one to question him. But if you already know they don't speak like normal humans, and they are always blasting at you - them kill them!
Too many risks were taken here for believability sake. It became redundant. There were lots of Dark Magistrates. Why not wait until there is an opportune time to take one prisoner, except trying it when there are many of them who have you cornered? Ellis would have had Kane and company blast these first ones to smithereens, then pen in a better plan in capturing one, WITHOUT taking these numerous stupid risks.
But this author penned a pretty solid horror type scenario. The Dead Earth of this casement was very much like Alan Philipson's Shadow World in DL. There are much worse places than our Earth's post-holocaust one. But Sorrow Space didn't reach the greatness of Shadow World, or Ellis and Odom's casement trilogy. It had great potential, and did have some solid material in it. But, overall, after reading the ending, it left me wanting.
For overall concept I would give this a 10. But in the last half execution, with the endless chase scenes with terrible shots and misses, along with some concepts I felt were not fully explored, I would give this a 5. Very good, but could have been awesomely great.
The existence of alternate realities (or casements) has been a recurring theme in the Deathlands / Outlanders universe. From the three Shadow World books in the DL series, to the Lost Earth trilogy in OL, it is a fun fun way to play the old Marvel comics "What If...?" game. Given that Outlanders already has strong parallels to Judge Dredd (whether by design or by coincidence I do not know), it only makes sense to play with the Dark Judges mythology and create a world with Dark Magistrates.
The thing that I enjoyed most about Sorrow Space was the fact that it is a compressed timeline kind of story. The entire book takes place over a matter of hours, from the opening mission to investigate and neutralize an armaments factory, and directly into the Gateway malfunction/interference that sends our heroes into an alternate version of Earth where life itself has been deemed a crime, the action starts at a sprint and only accelerates from there. There are no real moments of respite as the story is propelled from one action beat to the next, culminating in an explosive and truly world-shattering ending.
As much as I liked the long-form storytelling that OL has been doing for the last few years with the grand Ullikummis story line, it was nice to have a straight-up back-to-basics bottle episode where the lead characters are not only cut off from Cerberus, but even from each other due to their commtacts being damaged early on in the story.
On the whole I found to to be a thoroughly enjoyable story, and well worth the read.
I fully agree with Lokheed's review of this book, so I will add a few more of my own comments.
This book had me hooked almost from the beginning. Our heroes get sucked into an alternate timeline and into a world where nothing lives, not even bugs! This book felt like a very interesting mystery novel, where our trio has to figure out what is going on and where they are. I wanted to keep reading non-stop to find out the answers with them.
A couple of issues I had with the book were:
- Cerberus' command centre got beat up with the invasion of Uli the Rock Man, but was recovered after he was defeated. In these latest few books, it feels as if the command centre and the entire redoubt didn't experience too many issues in being covered in rock. Even the giant world map functions fairly well. Even the computers are back up to speed. But with the battle near the end of the book where the computers get shot up (again!) how many computers do they have left anyway? It's not as if IBM or Dell are still producing in the 23rd century.
- Toward the end, during the final battle in the alt world's main base, I was somewhat disappointed/surprised by the fact the bad guys were invading the real Earth by using a Stargate-like device. I mean, really, the author had to borrow from Stargate? Sure, I realize every book borrows something from other sources, but I had to laugh when I realized the Stargate was the portal device being used. That fact kind of took away from the overall awesomeness of the book.
Overall, a very good book.