Lair of the Geek

Bringing you all the geek stuff

By Alex Irvine
Review by David Stonehouse

Titan Books £6.99

Alex Irvine’s new novels expand the Transformers universe by telling the story of what happened before the robots in disguise arrived on Earth. The Transformers’ homeworld, Cybertron, is torn by civil war and evil Megatron and his villainous Decepticons are winning. Optimus Prime has been selected as the new Prime and given the Matrix of Leadership. To prevent the Allspark falling into Megatron’s hands Optimus has sent it far out into space and we all know where that ends up. At the end of Irvine’s first novel, ‘Transformers: Exodus’, Optimus Prime and his team of loyal Autobots have left Cybertron after freeing the ancient ship The Ark from the Well of the Allspark. The plan is to find and retrieve the Allspark and return to Cybertron to defeat Megatron once and for all. Unfortunately, Megatron is hot on the Autobots’ heels and the Matrix of Leadership has a few secret plans of its own for Optimus to get to grips with.

The Space Bridges around Cybertron are all damaged, isolating the planet, and the last working one was destroyed as the Ark set out on its journey. Megatron is following the Autobots in his faster-than-light warship Nemesis and it is only a matter of time before he catches up. This is a good set up as it automatically adds tension to the adventure. Wherever the Autobots turn up they have to work fast and move on because Megatron is always closing in on them.

It turns out that beyond Cybertron’s system quite a few of the Space bridges are still usable and the novel becomes a sort of whistlestop tour of some of the ancient Transformer colony planets. First up is Velocitron, a planet where the natives, separated for too long from Cybertron and the Allspark, have evolved into a specialised race with a society entirely built on the concept of speed. Here even politics is driven by velocity on the track power goes to the bots who are the most successful in an endless cycle of races. This strange decadent society has factions of its own and it soon becomes apparent that when the Cybertron civil war reaches them the Velocitronians will be completely unprepared.

The visit to Velocitron also exposes new problems for Optimus Prime. There is a traitor in the Autobots’ midst trying to undermine them at every turn and the mission is in jeopardy until the traitor is unmasked. On top of this the Matrix of Leadership is guiding Optimus Prime’s steps towards fragments of an ancient artefact which may or may not be crucial in the hunt for the Allspark.

The characters are well created by Irvine who keeps them consistent to their silver screen counterparts and adds welcome character details that give them depth and help to make them more believable. This is important – the bots haven’t reached Earth yet and so there are no human characters to ground the story for the reader. Fortunately, this ‘fleshing out the bones’ works well and our heroes prove that they can carry the adventure on their own. Plenty of fan favourites are present and correct; Optimus, Jazz and Bumblebee for the Autobots square off against Megatron, Slipstream and co for the Decepticons, as well as a host of fun supporting characters, some new and some familiar faces. There’s certainly a range of brand new bots that fans would love to see in their standard and altform shapes.

For fans of Transformer mythology Irvine doesn’t disappoint either. The story is in five parts, each with sections narrated by the ancient Alpha Trion, one of the legendary original thirteen. He fills in bits of Cybertron ancient history and adds a weight and gravitas to the proceedings. It is clear that most bots, including most of OptimusPrime’s team, think the stories of their past are nothing more than myths and legends and that finding out that some of those ancient names and artifacts are real is the Transformer equivalent of us stumbling on Excalibur in the back garden.

There are niggles though. Tie-in books often have a feel of being rushed out to cash in on the popularity of movie or DVD releases. Giving the fans what they want is by no means a bad thing but in this case some careful editing would not have been amiss. Some passages could do with a judicious trim to keep the pace up but that isn’t the biggest problem. There is a section in the middle of the book where Megatron appears to arrive on a new planet in all his glory but then, in another chapter about twenty pages later, the Nemesis arrives in the same star system for the first time and Megatron chooses his landing party for his first visit. The confusion is caused by a subplot which is so poorly developed that the reader barely registers it, but on which, annoyingly, the whole finale of the book hangs. This structural flaw isn’t enough to ruin the book as a whole but it does confuse the story and temporarily break the narrative spell for the reader.

Ultimately this is a book for serious Transformers fans. It also plays more to the incarnation of Transformers from the Michael Bay movies than the classic cartoons. This isn’t a bad thing and the two versions aren’t a million miles apart anyway. There’s lots to enjoy here, with plenty of invention and imagination on show and action set pieces that are genuinely exciting, and, if you’re already a fan of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee and the rest you aren’t going to be disappointed reading about them battling through a set of brand new adventures. The only real gripe is that it’s all a bit too serious and po-faced and while the expansion of the history and mythology is interesting it lacks that key ingredient of slightly tongue-in-cheek fun that makes the classic series and the new movies so damn entertaining. When all’s said and done what it all comes down to is a bunch of great big, loveable hero robots smashing the bells out of great big, evil villain robots, and that’s never ever going to be a bad thing.

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