After my recent movie splurge, I looked around at what 2015 will offer in cinematic sci-fi/fantasy goodness. Low and behold a new Terminator film is set to hit the screens in June. That news got me stupidly excited so I immediately started reading Timothy Zahn’s Terminator: Trial by Fire.
Set just weeks after the Terminator Salvation movie, Zahn’s story brilliantly fills in some gaps the film overlooked whilst creating two twin plots that are both as gripping as the other. Recovering from his near death escape at Skynet central, John Conner is a peripheral but (as ever) centrally important character, albeit in the background. Instead, Trial by Fire focuses on Kyle Reese on one hand and on Blair Williams and Barnes on the other.
Now with the Resistance, Kyle (and Star) are helping the clean up process after the bombing of Skynet. Sent off with a crew on an ammunition scavenge, Kyle is soon caught up in a deadly game of hide and seek as his team investigate a tunnel. After their leader sustains an injury and subsequently sacrifices himself to ensure the others escape, Kyle realises the tunnel is a Skynet plot to dug under the Resistance camp and launch a fatal attack on John Conner.
Barnes wants to bury his brother whose body lays out in the desert (where the opening battle in Salvation took place). Conner only agrees if he takes Blair. The bad blood between the two, based on the hybrid Terminator Marcus Wright, is still simmering and Connor insists they work it out. During their excursion the pair investigate a small mountain town only to become embroiled in a Skynet plot with frightening consequences.
Of the two plots, Blair and Barnes is the more complex yet both intertwine to show just how tricky Skynet really is. Zahn does an excellent job of covering over some story issues from the film (such as why Conner was only attacked by one Terminator in a complex full of the machines) as well as illuminating Skynet’s constant calculating and far-sighted plans. Kyle Reese is shown developing on his path to become the man we saw in the original Terminator film and it’s great to see him make mistakes and learn along the way, fulfilling that excellent time loop premise of the franchise.
However, it’s the twist in the end of the novel that really nails it for me. It paints the whole world of the Terminator story and it shows Zahn’s creativity. An effortlessly written story and a true page turner, Trial by Fire is just that for its protagonists and it’s sheer entertainment for the reader.
Published by Titan Books