by Jeremy Robinson
When I reviewed Jeremy Robinson’s novel SecondWorld, I suggested that he might find broader readership by toning it down just a smidge. I’d like to report that he did-but I don’t think I can honestly say that. And yet… Somehow the completely insane over-the-top… everything… of his latest novel, Island 731, works. It just works. If you can’t have fun reading this novel, you simply aren’t trying hard enough.
Of course, while I’ve voiced all sorts of criticism over the years, I’ve never denied the fun of Robinson’s novels. This one, for instance, opens with a brief, disturbing prologue set during WWII, and then immediate jumps to the present day aboard the research ship Magellan. Well, overboard the research ship Magellan. They are investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A scientist jumps overboard to acquire a valuable research specimen, and a crew member jumps to the rescue. Add a great white to the mix and we’re off to the races!
The scientist is Avril Joliet and her rescuer is Mark Hawkins, a former park ranger and expert tracker. (Yeah, yeah, these fictional characters do tend to come equipped with invaluable skill sets.) They are merely two of a small ensemble of characters at the heart of the tale. Possibly the most entertaining among the characters is high school science teacher Bob Bray. It is Bray who is the vehicle for most of the exposition once the novel’s plot kicks into gear, and much of the humor. This book is all about plot, so I don’t want to give much away. Succinctly, there’s a major storm that is merely the beginning of the problems that are about to plague the Magellan. Cascading failures lead members of the crew to a mysterious island. (And Jules Verne smiles from heaven.) There, they encounter astonishing and very frightening creatures. Bray attempts to explain:
“Okay, let’s talk science… Chimeras are formed when two fertilized eggs, or embryos, fuse in the womb… The main difference between natural chimerism and laboratory chimerism is that the process can be controlled in a lab… Anyway, instead of randomly merging embryos, scientists can select specific embryonic cells from one organism—say a bird’s wings and breast muscles strong enough to use them—and transplant them on to something else. Like a lion.”(If that sounds choppy, blame me. The ellipses are due to my condensing of the text.) Later, clues point to horrors from WWII. Again Bray is the agent of exposition: “There have been several nations and individuals who have done horrible things in the name of biological scientific progress throughout history. But none hold a candle to Unit seven thirty-one. They were Japan’s covert R and D division during World War Two. They performed sadistic experiments on human beings.”
I don’t think it’s necessary to go into further detail. Robinson’s plot unfolds at a lightning pace, and
You’ll recognize all sorts of classic and contemporary influences to this novel. Let’s just call it an homage to the greats. Mr. Robinson is walking where others have gone before, but he puts his own spin on this science-run-amok tale. And I ask you, who doesn’t like a good, old-fashioned creature feature?