A week or two before I wrote this review, I found myself missing the days when I used to watch TV shows on DVD instead of reading novels. In particular, I found myself dwelling on my fond memories of watching almost every episode of “Stargate SG-1” back in 2014.
Then I thought “Aha! There must be Stargate SG-1 novels!” And there were. Several of them were surprisingly expensive second-hand, but a few were reasonably-priced. Hence this review of Sonny Whitelaw’s “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” novel.
However, before I begin this review, I should point out that this novel will only make sense if you’ve watched several seasons of the “Stargate SG-1” TV show (and know the show’s characters, jargon, backstory etc..).
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with Major Carter going to a meeting with General Hammond. The rest of the SG-1 team are dead and Hammond wants to know what happened.
We then flash back to sometime earlier, when the SG-1 team are getting ready for the Christmas holidays. However, before they can leave the base, there is an unscheduled off-world activation of the stargate (a giant, ancient planet-to-planet teleporter). The SG-10 team and a volcanologist are in trouble on another planet, so Carter and O’Neill are dispatched for a rescue mission. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan….
Meanwhile, Daniel receives an e-mail from an archaeologist called Wodeski who claims to have found out something about a crystal skull in Mexico. Since the crystal skulls are part of another ancient alien teleportation network, General Hammond dispatches Daniel and Teal’c to Mexico to investigate….
One of the first things that I will say about this book is that, for everything it does right, it also does something wrong. This is one of those books that I’m really not sure whether I loved or loathed, or both. Seriously, there are a lot of good and bad things to say about this book.
For starters, the premise of the story is really cool. A lot of the story takes place on a geologically-unstable world that is populated by a civilisation descended from the Aztecs. So, there are lots of cool-looking pyramids, ominous volcanos, grisly sacrifices, obsidian swords, jaguar warriors, characters pretending to be ancient gods and other wonderfully dramatic stuff 🙂
Yet, a lot of this cool stuff is bogged down with lots of long-winded mythological/historical lectures (in fact, the book even includes an appendix containing “Daniel’s Mission Report” – which basically just repeats all of this stuff again). All of these lectures turn what should be a thrillingly dramatic adventure into a slow-paced exercise in note-taking and study at times.
I also have very mixed feelings about the writing in this novel. On the one hand, it is technically good. The novel’s third-person narration is filled with characterisation, atmosphere, good dialogue and lots of detailed descriptions. If this novel had been published between 1960-2000, I wouldn’t criticise the writing.
However, given that this is a 21st century action/adventure thriller novel based on a fast-paced TV show, all of this rich and deep writing sometimes slows the thrilling story to an absolute crawl. In a lot of ways, a slightly less descriptive, more “matter of fact” and more fast-paced narrative style would have been a much better fit for this particular story.
Although this novel seems to tell a new and original “Stargate SG-1” story, it is also fairly accurate to the TV show too. This is also both a good and a bad thing.
On the plus side, the main characters are really well-written and there’s also lots of the show’s trademark witty dialogue too 🙂
On the downside, the novel is bogged down by numerous pieces of jargon from the show, countless references to episodes of the show etc… Although this may sound good on paper, it can be a little confusing if it has been a few years since you last watched the show. And, if you haven’t watched the show, don’t even bother trying to read this novel. You won’t understand half of it.
In terms of structure, pacing and length, this novel is also a mixed bag. The structure of the story is really good, with an intriguing prologue, several dramatic set pieces and many scenes where the characters are separated and reunited in all sorts of clever ways too.
However, as I mentioned earlier, this novel is often far too slow-paced for the thrilling story it is trying to tell. What this also means is that, although the novel is a refreshingly slender 220 pages in length (plus the “mission notes” appendix), it’ll take you as long to read as a 400 page novel will. Which is kind of annoying.
All in all, this novel is a mixed bag. The premise, characterisation, atmosphere, dialogue and structure of this novel are absolutely brilliant. However, this thrilling sci-fi adventure story is written in an unfittingly slow-paced way, which can really drain the joy out of reading it at times. Likewise, unless you’re an absolute expert on the TV show (or have literally just finished watching the whole thing), then expect to be confused by all of the jargon/references at least a few times. So, yes, this novel is both brilliant and terrible at the same time.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a three.