on Dec. 12, 2014 :
There’s plenty to like about Carrier. Let’s start with something simple: if you liked the Dead Space video games, read this book. If you’ve read Brian Evenson’s novelisation Dead Space: Martyr, read this book too if you want to see similar ideas done with a lot more depth and authorial skill. If you haven’t read the Dead Space books, don’t bother. Read Carrier instead. It has the build up and climax to satisfy anyone who liked the carnage and eeriness of walking Isaac up and down the Ishimura with an arsenal of weapons, but with the addition of characters you as the reader should feel like rooting for a whole lot more.
The protagonist Stellan has plenty about him to make him engaging and encourage you to root for him. Carrier’s biggest strength is that it draws on flashback scenes and backstory so effectively that not only do the characters become realistic people but the scenes set in the past are in many ways as engaging as those set in the present. In a world where many writers are encouraged to keep backstory to a minimum and ground things in the present, it was nice to see a book that was unafraid of making the past equally important. If anything I would have liked even more about the background and the setup behind New Earth and further world building. Info-dumps are kept pretty concise in Carrier and Timothy Johnson as the author most likely did a fair amount of cutting and chose what was important quite carefully, but some things felt a little bit unexplored to me (no details to avoid spoilers.)
Tim Johnson has a skill with descriptive language and comparison. The atmosphere on the ship Atlas is all there for the reader to enjoy thanks to this, and a number of situations are rendered all the more believable thanks to the perceptive and inventive comparisons in the narrative. Where Carrier falls slightly short of the mark, in my opinion, is that there is a little too much soul-searching during the later action stages. By that point, I felt like I understood the characters and just wanted them to get on with everything rather than being reflective, or having reflection handed to me by the author as well. This is where the description and the profoundness started to weigh the narrative down a little too much, but up until the last third of the book I liked how all that added to the depth.
If you enjoy having a certain measure of ‘sympathy for the devil,’ then one particular character (no name, no spoilers) and this book in general is probably for you. Your perception of many characters is Carrier will most likely change at some point - even the people with redeeming features become questionable in one way or another. Tim Johnson pulls this off with some nice slight-of-hand. Sympathy for people who might (arguably) have done the wrong thing is very much in the ballpark here. On a second read, certain scenes will read differently, and there is some beautiful subtext that you will probably detect the first time around but the narrative will most likely still fool you. This is, in my opinion, one of the marks of a good author. Plus the emphasis is on the fiction rather than the science, and this is accomplished through the focus on character/people.
I wrestled with whether this should be a three star review or four for a while, and what it came down to is that there’s a certain amount of predictability about Carrier. It’s the kind of story I’ve seen before, and it conforms to a lot of sci-fi conventions and a certain amount of predictability even though it’s well written and has the kind of character depth and reflection that I like. I found an exciting story here with lots of action, but nothing new. I got a certain amount of wow-effect from some great one-liners and some descriptive passages that made me admittedly jealous of the author, but the book as a whole didn’t blow me away. I did enjoy the ride though, and when the action really kicked off I was sitting and reading for a good few hours to get it finished. It’s a fast read and easy to take in but there’s enough to make you think as well.
Best thing I can say: this is a debut novel, and most debut novelists often don’t do as well as this. If you’re looking for new talent to give yourself a break from big and familiar names in sci-fi/horror, check this book out.
(reviewed 38 days after purchase)