I don't know how it got here, but a copy of Gears of War: Ascendance has been lurking in Kotaku UK towers for several weeks, eyeballing me like some squat enemy commander. I've never especially wanted to read a novel about how some people shot a bunch of locusts but, in a weakened moment, I took the plunge: after all, how bad could it be?
Well, I dunno if you've ever read a book based on a shooter, but there's only so many ways one can describe the act of blasting a nasty locust.
"[Kait] braced herself and opened fire. Short bursts, the weapon rattling against her armpit each time. One of the scrawny creatures went ass-over-teakettle, limbs flailing. The other just dove lifelessly forward, vanishing into the grass."
The teakettle idiom is pretty striking for someone raised in the kind of dystopia where taking afternoon tea doesn't seem like it would be a major feature, but whatever. I'm also curious as to how something "dove lifelessly." You can fall lifelessly.
Other revelations here are that Marcus Fenix folds his arms to show how tough he is, a spectacle so awesome that people literally bow to him when he does it.
"They're here to escort you all to my offices." Then [Jinn] added, "Safely."
"I think we can manage our way there without help." Marcus Fenix folded his arms across his chest.
To Kait's surprise, Jinn nodded, and even bowed slightly, acknowledging the truth of Marcus's words.
Marcus certainly plays to type in Ascendance, and comes up with some pretty amazing plans.
"Okay," he said. "New plan. We leapfrog from cover to cover."
To be fair, Kait objects and they do something different. But it shows the challenges faced by a tie-in book like this, which has to both be somewhat Gears-y but also mix in a dash of literary description. And the first time Kait sees her long-lost uncle, we get a beaut:
"Wh... Kait?" came the reply of her bearded, ugly, beautiful uncle.
I'm not sure whether to call that description oxymoronic or just leave out the 'oxy.'
One of the book's highlights is how often locusts die through something happening to their stomach. Seriously, this seems to be the number one cause of death in Gears-land. Here's Marcus against a snatcher:
Marcus had sliced its bulging abdomen open from top to bottom, spilling the phlegmy contents all over the snow.
Luckily, no one had been inside.
God I love that last line. Yes, Snatchers kidnap humans and take them back to the hive in their stomachs. So Marcus Fenix, COG hero, obviously fights them by chainsawing their belly, then worrying about whether anyone's in there afterwards. This is far from the only belly to be sliced open.
He powered up the saw on his lancer and gutted the beast with a diagonal swipe, using the motion to roll out from under it. The move saved him from being covered with steaming innards, as well as avoiding the crushing weight of the fallen creature.
It screamed as it died.
It screamed as it died! I was screaming reading that. What happens in a last-ditch defence when Juvies are breaching defences? BELLY SLICE TIME.
A Juvie crawled into the room, going up around the door frame and actually sprinting upside down along the fucking ceiling. Oscar jumped forward, bringing his knife over his head in a high arc that gutted the scrawny thing. The body fell on him, but weighed almost nothing. He shouldered it aside and shook the blood from his knife.
"Well," he said. "I hope Kait's having as much fun as we are!"
Of course Marcus snorted! You sonovabitch!
There are some amazing combat descriptions that don't involve mid-sections being knifed:
Oscar's shotgun joined hers, and the two weapons sang a deathly duet.
Move over Shakespeare!
The last thing [Kait] heard as she hit the water, other than the wump-wump-wump of the Raven's rotor, was a familiar voice.
"WOOOH!" Cole shouted, and he opened fire.
"And he opened fire!" Another classic last line. Whomp-whomp-whomp. It's amazing to read something like this that takes gameplay mechanics and literally writes about them. You can feel why this section is here too: there's almost an expectation among Gears fans that, at some point in each Gears story, there has to be a moment where Cole Train turns up with a big gun and whoops while firing it. It's like paint-by-numbers in the form of a novel.
And some great moments when Kait starts to think about the true crimes of those damn locusts.
The twins were rapidly losing whatever innocence their teenage years still held for them. Just one more crime for which the Swarm would pay. As if they needed any more.
Nearly wiping out humanity is one thing, but the loss of teenage innocence?!? Now the locust have gone too far!
Oh and, just for the record, there is a difference in a Gears novel between 'wump' and 'whump.'
There was a sickening wet whump sound as the explosive bolt detonated somewhere in the Swarmak's gut. It went into spasms, limbs thrashing out. One arm tore into the corner of the mill, and the whole structure made a strange, low groan.
Notice where the explosive bolt detonated? Another gut shot, woo!
I hoped you enjoyed this run-through of a video game tie-in novel. And I hope, too, that you have learned never to buy a video game tie-in novel. Unless you've really got a thing for descriptions of bellies being chopped up with chainsaws.