From The Ice They Came by Eric S. Brown and N.X. Sharps. Originally published by Severed Press, April 2017. Approx. 136 pages.
From the Ice They Came, a neat little collaborative novella by Brown and Sharps, is a fun romp that combines military action, psychic powers, and Lovecraftian influences. The end result is fast paced, self-aware, and, towards the end, absolutely drenched in blood and ichor. Before we dissect it, let's take a look at the back cover blurb, which summarizes all quite nicely:
"Without warning or explanation U.S. Army Captain Robert Gilman is escorted to a cutting-edge research base in the Antarctic tundra by the shady multinational Ward Consortium. Competent but otherwise unexceptional, it turns out that his long suppressed abilities could be the lynchpin to decrypting the enigma posed by a tablet that predates human history. Isolated from civilization, presented with the carrot and the stick by the Consortium, and surrounded by others with special abilities of their own, ultimately curiosity compels Gilman to travel down the rabbit hole. But the further he delves, the greater the strain on reality becomes, and before long he discovers the Eibon Complex may well be ground zero for an inter-dimensional invasion by forces beyond human comprehension."
Let me just start out by stating that there is nothing either "new" or groundbreaking here. FTITC cobbles together elements of Lovecraft, The Thing, X-Men, and a slew of other iconic properties into a decadent morsel of entertainment loaf. Also, as mentioned, the writing is done in an an easy, breezy, self-aware style that helps move the proceedings along quickly. This is not a deep book; but rather something akin to an old B-movie classic. This is not a damning indictment; but actually high praise.
While our characters are instantly recognizable, they are also fairly memorable. Robert Gilman (nice 40K nod there) is a fairly even blend between military type and pop-culture referencing geek. He does his best to be a hero in the face of the unknown and impossible; all the while cultivating his dormant psychic skills.
He is, of course, given a romantic interest, as well as a pretty-boy foil. There is an interesting character in the leader of the team of red-shirts, er, military contractors tasked with guarding the base. And, the whole shebang is overseen by a classic corporate ice queen.
Again, nobody new, but still fresh.
There's two primary settings to focus on here. First is the facility. Centered in the middle of Antarctica, it is a high-tech hub in the midst of the world's most barren tundra. The description of the facility itself is well-done, but the Antarctic wasteland is an afterthought. When writing for that setting, you want to stress how remote it is (hence cut away from help), and how brutal the weather is. This is done to a degree, but not as much as it could have been (see Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Thing for a primer on this).
The other setting is the "dream world"; the world in which, during the middle of the story, we snatch glimpses of the bizarre landscapes in which the creatures dwell. Here Brown and Sharps flex a bit more authorial muscle; painting with Lovecraftian shades of hallucinogenic colors and impossible geometric influences.
Ah, yes. The "They" of the title. You actually get a lot of creature bang for your buck in this novella. There are two types on offer: lobster-mantids and brutal, overgrown space amoebas. The descriptions of the creatures themselves, as well as the devastation which they unleash, is superb.
Again, the pacing here is nice and brisk. If you are a normal reader, you can probably finish this in the time it takes to watch a movie; a good pairing for the cinematic feel of the prose. We start with the bonding scenes of the group in the facility, move on to a few weird jaunts through the hellish dreamscapes, and then it's about thirty straight pages of explosive climax.
The action is well-done; replete with plentiful gunplay and flying gobbets. One might complain that the psychic powers of the Gifted aren't used more in the climax; but a key issue is the physical/emotional drain that usage foists upon the user.
In summary; if there is one complaint that I can offer, it is (and other reviewers have pointed it out as well) that the proofreading here is really poor. I usually don't quibble about typos here and there; but in this book we are averaging 1-2 a page. I put this on the publisher more than the authors; but still, it is a deterrent to fully enjoying the book.
So, I saved this book for October, which is when I am usually looking for a good scare or two. Alas, there are no scares here, but plenty of action and witty, self-aware quips and references. Don't take it all too seriously, and you'll have a great time.
Plus, it has a solid (open) ending.
This is a nice enough cover, especially for a small press book. However, there are no critters like this in these pages.
At first glance, I thought that this was some sort of Cthulhoid creature, with tentacles across the mouth. Upon closer glance; well, I'm not sure. It looks sort of like a helmet and humanoid face.
Either way, it reminds me of Nemesis Enforcer from the G.I. Joe Movie.