Book Review: Extinction Game

Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

When your life is based on lies, how do you hunt down the truth?

Jerry Beche should be dead. Instead, he's rescued from a desolate Earth where he was the last man alive. He's then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists. Every one of them is a survivor, as each withstood the violent ending of their own alternate Earth. And their new specialism? To retrieve weapons and data in missions to other apocalyptic worlds.
But what is 'the Authority', the shadowy organization that rescued Beche and his fellow survivors? How does it access other timelines? And why does it need these instruments of death?

As Jerry struggles to obey his new masters, he begins to distrust his new companions. A strange bunch, their motivations are less than clear, and accidents start plaguing their missions. Jerry suspects the Authority is feeding them lies, and team members are spying on him. As a dangerous situation spirals into catastrophe, is there anybody he can trust?

Besides the great name in Science Fiction of Peter F. Hamilton Tor is also publishing the books of Gary Gibson and last year I had the pleasure of reading my first, Angel Stations, which was also Gary Gibson's debut into this genre. Here he showed a great imagination and story telling and the characterization of the characters was just perfect. So when Tor announced that they were publishing a title of him this year I got really excited and when I read the blurb was even more so. I have read some multiversing books recently, those of Ian McDonald and it is just very cool, but when it comes down to Extinction Game, the whole theme of multiversing is upped quite a lot. Especially when you take into account the underlying theme of apocalypse that is ever present in Extinction Game. Only these things made me really eager to pick up this book and just as what I learned from Angel Stations, characterization and world building (or should I say destroying?) is just top stuff. 

The story of Extinction Game picked up for me with a direct sense of doom focusing on the main protagonist Jerry Beche. Jerry is the sole remaining survivor on Earth. A terrible virus has destroyed the world that we know (or one of the worlds that we know). He has really gone through hell and back and when you are alone in the world, really alone in the world. He wife died a while back and he has gotten more and more thoughts of her and hallucinations, perhaps it's sometimes better to just put an end to it as there is really not that much going on to look forward to... But Jerry is still persevering and one day when he is out on a run to get foodstuff he all of a sudden crosses a set of footprints and immediately bells start to ring in his mind, Jerry is the sole living person on Earth, how can there be prints? Is he imagining it? So Jerry starts to investigate and he stumbles upon living persons... and they take Jerry along... Now Jerry finds himself on an different version of that of his Earth and learns that he has been recruited by The Authority, and ominous and largely vague and unknown presence. The people that rescued him are known as Pathfinders, all persons who were the last surviving persons on an alternate version of Earth. Being in the ranks of the Pathfinders, Jerry hops along as the latest recruit to salvage data and equipment from other alternate Earth´s to let the power and technological advance of The Authority grow. But the main question remains, can you really trust such a shadowy organization as The Authority? They hardly make their selves known and only send through order. As the story unravels, bit by bit you learn that something much larger is going on and not really in the advantage of Jerry and the new comrades that he found in the ranks of the Pathfinders. 

When I was just a few pages into Extinction Game I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy the remainder of the book. The story is a combination of science fiction influences like multiversing and the technology used and all combined in the ever presence of dystopian futures. All the planets that Gary Gibson shows in his story have encountered an apocalypse of some kind. If I look back at the Deep Space Opera kind of story that I read and the dystopian kinds I can say that I haven't encountered anything like Extinction Game before. Just the influences to build the story are very provocative and really make you think. Not necessarily the dystopian worlds but for me also some of the actions that took place like take for example the scientists that destroyed the native Earth of Jerry. A man-made virus. with our current advances in technology... you never know. What Gary Gibson shows, and maybe not intentionally, is that thes humans in his story are catalysts of their own destruction. How far do we differ from them? But lets not turn this into a debate about that. Anyway I really enjoyed the story of Extinction Game it's a great standalone book but when it comes down to the multiversing aspect is does lend it's hand into the making of a sequel.
The narration that features in Extinction Game focuses on the personal story of Jerry, how he is going through everything. As I always say when it comes to end-of-the-world, doom and apocalyptic kind of scenarios, is that this for me is the best narration that can be used. Everything, from experiencing the world down to the thoughts of the protagonist and how he acts and the how the other characters, reacts only that much more stronger really drawing you as a reader into the story. But is it not only writing a story from this point-of-view that makes it engaging, also the writing style is important and here it did remind me a lot to what I encountered in Angel Stations, Gary Gibson writes with a definite confidence. The descriptions of the surroundings are nicely detailed but not too overly and this allowed the book to keep to it's tight pacing. There are moments wherein Gary Gibson does "pause" his story and let the events be summed up or evaluated, just before throwing the story in a rapid pacing once again. Highly addictive. 

Within the story there are also a few critical points where Gary Gibson delves deeper into the history of several characters or world shaping/destroying events. These points weren't mere infodumps but Gary Gibson brought them in the form of conversation, back and forth dynamic conversations, not letting the story stall but helping it only move forward and inspire a bigger feeling. 
I really liked how Gary Gibson showed the character of Jerry in Exction Game, as the sole survivor of his Earth he sure knows how everything goes and is part wise in his ways by this but also put into a regime that his vision in the single one possible, right until the moment that he introduced to all the different possibilities by visiting alternate Earth's. The personal struggles in the beginning of the book, with loosing his wife and having a very bleak future, his hallucinations and much more really put an emotional drag on Jerry character and early one made me feel for the poor guy. He isn't a typical hero kind of guy that goes in guns blazing but rather lets the surrounding sink in before taking a step forward. This all combined made Jerry an very enjoyable character to read about, you might think that everything that Jerry does is predictable but your wrong, he might not be a hero but he is far from being a pushover. Next to Jerry, you also get to learn about many of the different pathfinders, since they all have more experience than Jerry in the field it was nice to see how they related personal events and schooled him in the things that he needed to learn in order to survive and not also put their lives on the line. The secondary cast in the form of the Pathfinders added a great dynamic to the story as not all seem who they be on the first take.

 Extinction Game is a solid stand along story that gives a first, for me, new interpretation to both multiversing and a dystopian Science Fiction setting. I think it is safe to say that Gary Gibson just went above what he has written before and really has outdone himself. From the start of the story he managed to put the setting just right and really suck you into the story of Extinction Game. Showing Jerry in a way where he lost it all and gains new hope just to see that there are many more things involved in reality. The whole setting that Gary Gibson inspires feel real and threatening there are some great moments especially on the Earth with the bee kinds where I got a really claustrophobic feeling, this really hit me out of the blue as all of a sudden the story is thrown in a rapid pacing and just when the action was over it ebbed in a more steady calm. By letting the story be told in this kind of way you never really new what was behind portal number 2. Extinction Game is an addictive read and as I also said on twitter I want this on the big screen!


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