Jerry Beche is alone in the world. His only companion is the imagined voice of his lost wife Alice who, along with everyone else on Earth but Jerry, was claimed by a virus with an insatiable hunger. Jerry endures years of mindbending solitude, surviving from one day to the next, until one day he sees the impossible – human footprints in the snow. Someone is watching him.
For Jerry, the extraordinary happens. He is adopted by the Pathfinders, a group of survivors and explorers who are based on Easter Island, but not the Easter Island that can be found on Jerry’s Earth. This is a parallel Earth, one of countless, and the Pathfinders comprise the sole survivors from a whole range of Earths, each destroyed or devastated in umpteen different ways. Gathered together by the Authority, a mysterious body from one of the inexplicable rogue Earths, the Pathfinders’ mission is to explore these other worlds, familiar and yet so different, to recover certain artefacts, to discover the reasons for and why this chain of infinite ruined, empty Earths exists, each with its sole survivor.
Apocalyptic novels are on fire at the moment and when I heard that Gary Gibson, one of my very favourite science fiction authors, was tackling the genre, I was intrigued and enthusiastic. As a fan of disaster films and novels, the cover grabbed me instantly. Extinction Game is not at all what we’re used to from Gary but his dexterity with thrills, adventure and moments that make the jaw drop is put to good use – the result is a ferocious pageturner.
The worlds, or Earths, into which Jerry and his new team are transported are vividly presented. The dangers build along with the tension and when Jerry has to return more than once to Earths which have been taken over by mutated animal species – or worse – the dread is palpable. Each venture piles on the tension while simultaneously Jerry and the others try to work out the nature of the Authority and identify what it is they’re supposed to be looking for.
Jerry is an intriguing character that we learn to know from the novel’s strong beginning but the other characters, especially the baddies, are relatively ill-defined. My main stumbling block with the novel as a whole, though, is I never quite understood the point of the missions into the alternative worlds and their purpose seemed totally secondary to the adventure element of the expeditions, which are undoubtedly frightening. Extinction Game isn’t my favourite post-apocalyptic novel, nor is it my favourite Gary Gibson novel (that would be a tall order as Final Days is one of my most loved novels of any genre and last year’s Marauder is fantasic) but, above all else, Extinction Game is about entertainment and it provides that by the bucketload.