Well, since I was in the mood for both sci-fi and thriller fiction, I thought that I’d take a look at Martha Wells’ 2006 novel “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary”.
Although I hadn’t planned to read another “Stargate” novel after my slightly lukewarm reaction to a couple of “SG-1” novels I read last year, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of this novel after seeing it highly recommended in a comment below an online article about books. Plus, I was also feeling a bit nostalgic about the time when I watched “Stargate Atlantis” on DVD back in 2014/15 too.
Although this novel tells a stand-alone “Stargate Atlantis” story, I would strongly recommend watching the TV show before reading it – both to get to know the characters and, more importantly, to understand some of the series’ jargon, backstory etc… too. Some parts of this novel probably won’t make sense if you don’t at least have some vague memories of the TV show.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Stargate Atlantis – Reliquary”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins on Atlantis, with McKay and Zelenka arguing with Ford and John Sheppard about what to do with a large new room that they’ve found on the ancient extraterrestrial floating city. John and Ford want to turn it into a sports pitch of some kind, but McKay and Zelenka are fascinated by a pillar-like device that they’ve found in the middle of the room. And, after some tinkering, it suddenly displays a glitchy hologram that contains a gate address.
After some discussion with Weir, they send a MALP probe through the stargate to the address – which shows an empty coastal region and some kind of building that looks a bit like one of the Ancients’ repositories. Thinking that it might contain technical information and/or some much-need zero-point energy modules, Weir authorises an exploratory mission to the planet.
When the team get there, they find that the repository is long-since deserted and notice signs of both vandalism and bomb damage. Although there don’t seem to be any life signs in the area, John begins to feel uneasy – as if there is something there. This feeling only gets worse when the team accidentally open the entrance to a gloomy underground bunker and John smells a mysterious odour of decay…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it wasn’t always as fast-paced as I’d hoped for, it’s a really good “Stargate: Atlantis” novel 🙂 Not only is it in keeping with the style and tone of the TV show, but it also contains the series’ classic mixture of sci-fi, humour, thrilling suspense/action and horror 🙂 In other words, this novel is kind of like a really good two-part episode of the TV show.
In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, not only does it contain all of the technology from the TV show but it is also a novel about the risks and misuse of genetic engineering and the dangers of bio-weapons. Although this is handled in a slightly stylised way, it allows for some interesting plot elements (such as John slowly mutating into a reptilian creature) and a few brilliantly creepy moments of horror too.
These horror elements include a really good mixture of creepily atmospheric moments, tragic horror, psychological horror, the macabre, monster horror, moral horror/scientific horror, character-based horror and body horror – which really help to add a bit of extra intensity to the story 🙂
But, more than all of this, this novel is a thriller novel. And, although it is sometimes a little slower-paced (due to descriptions, scientific explanations etc…) than a traditional action-thriller novel, these elements of the story work really well here. In short, if you’ve seen the TV show, then you’ll know what to expect. Not only is there a decent amount of suspense, a few fight scenes and a plot twist or two, but the story also includes numerous moments when the characters find themselves in dangerous situations and have to rely on their wits (rather than just brute force) in order to come up with a clever way of dealing with whatever is threatening them.
The novel’s thriller elements are probably at their very best in the mid-late parts of the story, which are a little bit like a version of “Die Hard” set on Atlantis. These parts of the story contain a really compelling mixture of suspense, action and clever planning/teamwork. Still, although the earlier parts of the story are a little slower at times, this does help to build atmosphere and suspense – not to mention that it makes the later parts of the story seem even more dramatic by contrast.
Plus, one cool thing about this novel is that it absolutely nails the TV show’s sense of humour too 🙂 This mostly consists of amusing dialogue and the occasional descriptive moment, but the novel also goes a step further and also includes a few well-placed pop culture references (eg: to “Alien”, H.P.Lovecraft, Monty Python etc…) which really fit in well with the events of the story.
Although this novel isn’t really “laugh out loud” funny most of the time – except for Teyla’s “World war two?” comment, which did make me laugh out loud – this subtle humour really helps to add a lot of personality to the story and also helps to prevent the horror elements from becoming too bleak too.
In terms of the characters, they’re fairly accurate to the TV show – the point where reading this book almost feels like watching an extra episode or two of it. But, although you shouldn’t expect too much extra character development, the novel’s focus on John’s slow transformation into a mutant creature is handled in the kind of immersive way that only novels can do 🙂 This novel is also mostly focused on John and McKay, which also allows for a lot of amusing dialogue exchanges and/or arguments between them too 🙂 Plus, although the novel’s villain can be a bit cartoonishly evil at times, he actually has a reasonably well-written backstory and is also a suitably intelligent foe for the team to battle against too 🙂
As for the writing, it’s fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is kind of a blend between more informal/”matter of fact” thriller narration and the kind of descriptive, formal narration that you’d expect from a sci-fi novel. It’s very readable, although the descriptive elements do mean that some of the more thrilling moments don’t always feel quite as fast-paced as you might expect from a traditional action-thriller novel or an episode of the TV show. Still, the writing is fairly good overall and these descriptive elements also add atmosphere to the story.
As for length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At an efficient 220 pages in length, there isn’t a single wasted page here 🙂 The novel is moderately-fast paced most of the time, with the pacing being a bit slower in the more suspenseful and atmospheric earlier parts, before increasing slightly in speed and intensity as the story progresses. But, whilst it isn’t exactly a “slow paced” novel, it may seem very slightly slower than you’d expect if you’re used to ultra-fast action-thriller novels (by authors like S.D. Perry, Matthew Reilly etc..).
All in all, this is a really good “Stargate Atlantis” novel 🙂 It really does feel like an extra two-part episode of the TV show, complete with amusing dialogue, creepy sci-fi horror and a good amount of gripping suspense/action. Yes, it wasn’t always as fast-paced as I’d expected, but it’s still a good novel and is also probably the best “Stargate”-related novel that I’ve read so far 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.