Predator: Turnabout by Steve Perry 4/5
As the Brits say, this was quality! Turnabout
is the perfect example of the way to create a successful narrative within either the Alien or Predator franchise: don't overthink the plot. There's been way too much emphasis in recent years on these convoluted plots, and I would include the Ridley Scott Prequels along with Shane Scott's The Predator as examples. Perry's novel takes the less-is-more approach when it comes to plot, more along the lines of Mad Max: Fury Road. It's simple, straightforward, easy to follow, and engaging because the emphasis is placed on the characters. Perry does a great job of capturing the specific interior voice of his characters while using a 3rd person point of view, which is impressive because of the detachment of 3rd person. His three Alien novels were also 'eminently readable,' as is AvP: Prey. Turnabout is no exception. It feels like a pleasure to inhabit the minds of Sloane, Mary Collins, and Regal because of how distinct they all feel, and how engaging their voices are. Perry managed to capture the gristled war veteran in Sloane, the non-confrontational voice of a pacifist schoolteacher in Mary, and the reprehensible murderous criminal that is Jack Regal. You could read each of his books in about a day due to their level of engagement, at least I think. Very entertaining books.
On the Predators themselves, I have to commend him for straying from the yautja
mythology that he's responsible for creating. This book is from the perspective of the human characters, and is very much about people changing, going through character arcs, the kinds of things we need characters to do in a narrative. The focalization coming from only the human characters makes the Predators more mysterious, more alien, and positions them as the antagonists, the monsters they've been since the original film. There's none of this team-up nonsense (I'm being half facetious). That being said, the Predators do feel somewhat absent from the plot in certain ways. I like the way things are set in motion, the fact that Mary wants to see the site of her Timothy Treadwell-eque brother's demise, the poachers in the forest, the dead bear. But it seemed like the Predators, at a certain point, are just there
. They're very abruptly discovered in the 7th chapter, and accepted without much contemplation by the protagonist from there on out. Even in Predator, and Predators, we see some first-person viewpoints from the monsters. That's maybe missing here. It's still doable outside of the yautja interior we now expect. The Predator 2 novelization is a good blueprint.
My other complaints were somewhat minimal in the grand scheme of how fun this book is to read. I thought it was kind of stupid that the main female character ended up becoming a love interest. Predator is notable to me in that the women who inhabit the films are never the object of a romantic relationship that takes place on camera. The one who is, McKenna's wife in The Predator, is estranged from her partner. So, Mary Collins acquiescing to this conservative, gun-toting survivalist whom she is initially disgusted by is fine, but I thought the fact that
they have sex and live happily ever after as a couple
was maybe a little optimistic and expected in a cliche way. Another complaint is that this guy, Sloane, is a bit invincible. I get that the title Turnabout
positions Sloane as the hunter of the hunters (and we've even got that tired old tagline on the cover to emphasize it), but there are just a lot of points in here that he sneaks up on Predators and sort of feels like an overpowering Superman force against them. Similar complaint that I had in The Cold Forge when humans were sneaking around Xenomorphs in scenes. Was a bit of a feeling of cheapening things. This is shifting gears a bit, but in the same way I felt the villains in this book were effectively conveyed as bad dudes, the constant repetition of their explicit intentions to rape Mary Collins at the soonest possible juncture was, beyond the fact that it was repetitively drilled into my head, a bit alienating to female readers of the book when we consider the kinds of statistics about sexual assault that are becoming more and more prevalent and understood. At a certain point I just didn't need to hear it anymore. I think that goes for some of the racial slurs that appear in the interiors of Regal as well. Maybe a couple times and we get it, but after that it's just there to be there. This occurs frequently in the novelization of Predator as well. Frankly, it's a convention of the Predator franchise that something problematic is included in the plot, dialogue, etc. at some point. Not saying that it should be a convention, just observing it as one.
Also checked out the short story, "Rematch," from If It Bleeds. It was a generally entertaining follow up to this, and did give me a bit more than this ending, but it ended on a punchline and was kind of a throwaway overall.
But anyway, Predator: Turnabout is a great read. A lot of the books in the Alien/Predator series are fine
, but there are few that I feel genuinely, objectively enthusiastic about as just being good reads. Turnabout is one of those books I'm enthusiastic about.