Horrorible Review: “Deadlands: Ghostwalkers”

Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!

Deadlands: Ghostwalkers book cover

Deadlands: Ghostwalkers

When I bought the book I thought it was based on a video game because I apparently don’t read very well and misunderstood the Amazon blurb.  Before the Internets killed solo game play I used to love text adventures like Zork and puzzle games like Space Quest and then first person shooters like Half Life, so I thought it would be interesting because there were zombies.  And the book did read like the novelization of a video game, with lots of action levels followed by boring cut scenes, and peopled with skewed stereotypes and nifty creatures.  When it was expressed by a friend that I was being an idiot I rethought the book and liked it a little better.  Deadlands is based on a popular RPG (role playing game), and though I’ve played D&D that was decades ago and I never got back into it, unfortunately. As most of you probably know, one of the big differences between video games and RPGs is that with the latter you choose a type of character and then build that character into something uniquely your own, rather than using a video game designers’ pre-determined character.

As you may imagine, the story is a simple one of good versus evil in a steampunky Weird West with cool goggles, gas powered pistols and an enormous clanky robot. There are also zombies. Hardened gunslinger Grey Torrence falls in with Sioux scientist Thomas Looks Away and they travel to the treacherous remains of California after the Great Earthquake.  Monsters, both human and unhuman, await.

The characters and story line are Maberry’s, based on the many character classes and systems available, but it has the feel of a video game with too many extended cutscenes and meticulously described weird places on the map and the even weirder monsters and other dangers our heroes run into. There’s so much exposition in the cut scenes that even the novel’s characters comment on it, more than once, and the weirdness factor ramps up and up and up until the furious action of the last couple of chapters followed by the abrupt and I thought rather confusing end.

One of the nice things you can do with fiction set in the Weird West is populate it with a wider combination of gender, race and culture than Zane Grey ever dreamed of. Besides Mr. Looks Away there is also a hard as nails heroine, a genius African American scientist, and the aforementioned zombies.

Maberry works hard to put our heroes in one jaw-droppingly horrific scene after another and that doesn’t take long to wear thin.  I realize heroes are supposed to go on a journey but the map Grey and Looksie traverse is over long and too full of hazards.  It’s fantasy fiction, sure, but there’s an overload line even for that and I think Maberry dumps too much on his reader. After a while I was just reading to see what he’d throw at me next, not because I cared one way or another how it turned out.

His prose is too smooth and his historical references too fun to discount the author, so I’m not totally saying give this book a pass.  Read this if you play Deadlands and would love to read an all-out crazy action bonanza story based on the game, or if you’ve played RPGs before and understand the type of milieu Maberry is working in, or even if you’re curious about what Weird West is all about because the Old West doesn’t get much weirder than this.

LINKS:

Deadlands gaming rulebook

Deadlands rule book

Deadlands Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry Book Trailer

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