On a remote South China Sea island, a deadly hunt is underway… but not the kind of expedition the participants expected. In this remote, jungle-covered island somewhere between Thailand and Indonesia some of the most exotic animals in the world have been gathered as the prizes in a challenge of human against nature. The hunters come from all walks of life. Each has come to the island for personal reasons, some secret, some deadly. But when the encampment’s owner, ex-Khmer Rouge Colonel Rath Preap, finds the fences cut and his security men missing, it’s clear that the game has turned. And as the hunters battle for survival, they discover there is another creature out for blood… an adversary that has faced death on a thousand worlds – a Predator with an unstoppable lust for conquest!
Before we start let me tell you a tale. It is a tale of woe. Of adventure. Of despair. Of evil men who are tasked with the delivery of items. It is the tale of how I was cheated of my copy of South China Sea. So in a nutshell the mess that is the British Postal Service managed to lose my review copies of South China Sea and No Exit. But I recently got around to getting it special ordered at my local and tada(!) it finally arrived.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do it! I’d like you all to welcome Jeff VanderMeer into the fold. Like the three before him, VanderMeer is a man who knows how to do Predator and has given us, in my opinion, the best of the Predator novels yet.
Like Turnabout and Flesh and Blood, the main highpoint of South China Sea is its characters. We’re thrown in with a bunch of lowlifes from so many different sectors of society. Understandably the use of morally dubious characters can prove to be difficult as we’ve seen in Aliens Criminal Enterprise. It is hard for the reader to get emotionally invested in characters who we would naturally want to hate. Instead they have to be interesting.
What Jeff has given us is an ensemble of characters that are not only diverse and interesting but, more than that, understandable. While we may not be able to connect with them all, we can certainly believe and understand who they are and how they ended up on the island.
Jeff manages to develop many of the characters throughout the course of the novel. It really stood out to me especially because despite the struggles and brutal nature of the novel, many of the characters actually survive and grow a significant deal due to the events of the novel. It actually makes it extremely satisfying reading the concluding chapters.
The one character that stands out and who the reader is able to connect with is Gustat. He’s a man who was once an ordinary person and lived a simple life. He’s a man who is out there looking for the Predators. Looking for retribution. As the novel progresses the way Jeff develops Gustat makes for an involving read that culminates in feeling satisfaction for the character.
Another section that really stood out for me was when the character of Rath was shown to be loosing touch with reality due to the events of the first half of the novel. To my shock Jeff wrote so well that I actually felt a twinge of sympathy for Rath – who is far from being a shining beacon of all that is right with the human race. It was moments like this which really help South China Sea stand out.
Something that is becoming somewhat of a controversial topic is how the Predator POV is presented, especially due to these novels being the only format that allows for the culture and inner workings of the Predator characters to be properly explored. And it’s something that really tickles the fancy of the various authors that tackle the Predator license.
Thankfully though, Jeff totally avoids the fanboy conflict of Hish vs Yautja that has risen as a result of the earlier DH Press Predator novels. Jeff went for the vague method. Rather than humanizing the Predator, he opts for dishing information on past hunts which still does the job of expanding the mythos. The brief sections from the Predator’s POV give insight into the rest of the universe and help to develop the Predator character and just how experienced and brutal he is.
Predator fans will be pleased to know that South China Sea’s Predator is absolutely badass. He is brutal. There are plenty of maimings and deaths as a result of the Predator’s presence on the island. A crocodile attack barely slows him down. I also enjoyed the personality Jeff injected into him through things like painting war faces onto his helmet with blood.
However there is a minor subplot which involves a character becoming infected with an alien pathogen. In itself it’s quite an interesting plot point – unique for the Predator novels too – it’s just the fact that the infection essentially turns the character into a zombie that is a bit off-putting. But like I said, it’s only a minor subplot and only one complaint.
Clocking in at 345 pages South China Sea is also the longest of these recent novels. It doesn’t affect the pace of the novel, however, as Jeff employs the use of short chapters to keep the novel moving and make sure the reader is never bored.
South China Sea is yet another example of what happens when the author actually “gets” the franchise he is writing for; a fantastic and gripping read. In fact I dare say this novel bests Turnabout. The quality of these Predator novels has been increasing with each new release.
I’m extremely pleased to award South China Sea with a spine-rippingly good score of 5 out of 5. I welcome Jeff back for an attempt at an Aliens novel and I dare him to do another Predator novel that out-does South China Sea.
Oh and look out for Onyx. You may find him familiar.