Monday, April 8, 2013

A good, old-fashioned creature feature

Island 731
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
revelations occur throughout the novel. Along with those revelations are a goodly number of shocks and surprises along the way. As noted above, Robinson has written a science thriller, and he makes a good faith effort to dress his outlandish tale in enough facts to make the fiction go down easier. Me, I’m a Googler. I stop and check details regularly. Is there a Great Pacific Garbage Patch? I’m sad to say it’s true. Japanese cannibalism in WWII? I’d never heard of it, but-check! And what the heck is an aye-aye? Do yourself a favor and look it up. Robinson is the master of the strange but true. That will only get you so far. As always, Robinson really pushes the envelope of what readers will buy. I’ve been known to balk. But this time I just grinned and went along for the ride. I do love me some monsters!

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?


  1. Right? I know I certainly enjoy a good creature feature! I've only read one of Robinson's titles so far - I brought it on a vacation and it made the perfect airplane read. The over the top elements were just the key to tuning out all the annoying normal traveling distractions. This one sounds like loads of fun! I'm thinking I need to grab a copy for some weekend downtime.

    1. It sounds like you have exactly the right attitude, Becky. Which of Jeremy's books did you read previously?

      Also, have you checked out Warren Fahy's Fragment and Pandemonium? They are very much of the same vein. And Fragment, in particular, has science that would make Michael Crichton proud.

    2. Just PULSE so far. We have both of the Fahy titles - my husband has read them and I'm up next!

  2. Thanks for the awesome review, Susan! Really appreciate it. FYI, I'm offering free e-copies of I AM COWBOY, an upcoming novella featuring Cowboy (from SecondWorld)to anyone who posts a review of ISLAND 731, which now includes you! Send me your e-mail at info(at), and I'll get you a copy when it comes out. :)

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      Thanks for dropping by. Yeah, I'm delighted to heap praise on this novel. You know I mean it, because I've been equally free with criticism over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed Island 731.

      And thanks for the heads-up about your promotion. I will definitely send my email. Cowboy is awesome!

  3. Tom Coffman joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor December 1941 as a Petty Officer 3rd class and 6 months later he's a Master Chief Petty Officer (Yorktown sank at Midway June of 42). That sort of rise is more unbelievable than the res of the story. Also his getting use to the sound and smells of war over the years. Hey....6 months.