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T2: Infiltrator

by SM Stirling

(Gollancz, £6.99, 499 pages, paperback, published 11 July 2002.)

This is a novel set in the world of the Terminatorcover scan movies. It is a competently written SF action thriller, but it is rather hamstrung by the constraints of the movie-defined world that it works in and uses some clichés, such as that computers can find out anything anywhere quite quickly. It was an enjoyable page-turner, but, like many action thrillers, by the end I didn't feel that the time had passed profitably. I thought it could have been shorter by half and I had become irritated by some of the things that went on. Some of these seemed to be due to the limits of the Terminator scenario. Indeed, do we -- does the market -- want another Terminator movie, never mind a book?

The main terminator in the book is new generation, female, terminator who is a cyborg rather than a robot and who has human emotions, the better to infiltrate human society. Her development and growth in the post-Judgement Day future (and I'm assuming that anyone reading this knows the basic scenario) is the best part of the book, because it is largely free of the movies' limits. Her thoughts, which are ruthlessly dedicated to destroying human opponents of Skynet (the sentient computer who wants to destroy humankind), are well portrayed and her character is convincing. She is sent back to the present, where Sara and John Connor (who will lead the humans in the future) are older -- John is 16. Then things start to get a bit daft in ways that might work OK in an action movie, might, but don't reading a book when you have time to reflect. For example, dogs can reliably sense terminators, so it is completely against character for the Connors to not have one because John misses the poochie that got wasted in Terminator 2, all of which is dwelt upon at such length that one come to see this as totally out of character for ruthless survivors. A passing comment would have been OK, but going on about it several times just fills up words and gets annoying. There are other wastes of paper like this.

The infiltrator builds several big Arnie style terminators. She wants to kill the Connors and also facilitate the research that leads to Skynet being built. For some reason, all the terminators have the same face. This was allowable in a movie just about 'cos it is the face we love, but in a book -- why! The Connors' next-door neighbour also happens to be -- inexplicably really -- the original human prototype of the terminators. So we've got all these tough blokes running about with big Arnie's face (they're all six foot six too, no stilts required). Cue a farce or the Monty Python sketch where everyone is called Bruce? Na, the good -- i.e. human -- guy scares the Connors a bit and nobody else really notices. Besides, by now the Connors are so f***ing hard that the terminators are just gun fodder for them really. One titanic struggle with an indestructible robot is dramatic, the destruction of seven of them one-by-one gets tedious and predictable. The chief terminator turns out to be surprisingly un-bullet-proof as well. If I'd been the author, I'd have sent five of those shape-shifter guys from Terminator 2 and to hell with human empathy. In a plot where the future can be changed, I'd have killed a Connor or two to maybe bring 'em back later as well. Instead, John gets the mandatory serious but not immobilising flesh wound and Sara is merely shot a zillion times with a magnum 52 (presumably the handgun equivalent of volume 11 on the amplifier; yea, yea I'm sure it really exists weapons nerds) and has to be left on a stretcher for the paramedics. She lives... I think Skynet's only hope is to send back John Wayne. Man, he didn't even need to reload!

Review by Richard Hammersley.

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