Transformers: Exodus - War For Cybertron - Novel

Transformers Exodus is a prose novel released in June 2010 written by Alex Irvine, published by Ballantine Books. It was dubbed the official history of the War for Cybertron and supposedly is endorsed by Hasbro as far as I have been able to surmise. (The copyright on the title page lists Hasbro as the sole holder.) I have as of yet, not read every prose story out there that has anything to do with the Transformer library of books to date. Maybe someday I will have that honor. But from what I've been told from those who have read it all, this is the best Transformers prose story the fandom has received as of 2010. That being said, Exodus still failed to impress me from cover to cover.

I have read the movie verse Ghosts of Yesterday and the Veiled Threat by Alan Dean Foster, so my opinion of where Exodus falls is compared to those two novels. Ghosts of Yesterday may not have been the best story but it was in the end a story I could follow without feeling too jarred.

Exodus has left me feeling like there just wasn't enough or too much to cover in one 276 page book.

The first thing I have to knock about Exodus is the beginning. The first three pages is nothing but info dump and I did not feel pulled into the story at all. This is absolutely an important thing to do, especially in this fandom of toy collectors and game players. The target audience, if they sit down and read books at all, are instant gratification creatures of habit. They want quick pace and they want to be pulled in. Giving three pages of information just does not work well for an audience with shorter attention spans. (And of course I say that lovingly.) I was able to push through the info because I'm reviewing this book. (Tenacity works for me.) But normally I'd say I would have stopped there as a reader if I wasn't reviewing. Or I would have taken a very very long time to finish it.

It took me until about Chapter 5 before I really started loving this story. The build up and pacing worked right until the time Orion Pax and Megatron came before the High Council. That's when the first signs of "this is not the story I think it is" appeared.

First off, the building of Orion Pax and Megatron's relationship was new and interesting. Sure it's been done before, the hero and the villain are long time friends before the falling out. But I'm alright with that cliche. It would have served this story better had they stuck with that premise. The blooming friendship showed a situation I had never before considered, these two foes were at one time great and close friends. When I saw the generation one cartoon ages ago, I never thought they were that close. The recent 2007 movie was the first nibble I had to introduce me to the idea and it was only a small admittance in a conversation. This was actually showing me how they came to know each other. They call each other brothers. How much closer can a person be than that? I was completely hooked and settling in for that story I've been wanting from Transformers fiction for a long time. I was sympathizing with Megatron for the first time. And I was fast becoming a believer like Orion Pax was believing him. I was still growing comfortable with the brotherly term of endearment as I felt Orion Pax was when everything halted for me.

The problem comes with the fact that it all crumbled prematurely. Once they come before the High Council they part ways obviously because Orion Pax is put in charge, named Optimus Prime by the Council, and Megatron feels betrayed by him. However, it almost seemed the strength of his claims was yet to be developed to the point where the betrayal really conveys to the fullest extent to the reader. It tries, but it's forced into a conclusion which left my head spinning too soon. I was more shocked at the fact of the scene happening now as opposed to what was really happening. I just couldn't really believe it emotionally. And I started to question what is the main conflict of this story if it isn't the conflict between these two characters? Because for the first fourth of the book it makes me believe this is going to be a story about them to the end. Which made sense because it would have started with the leaders of the two opposing factions.

I would have liked to see the relationship deepen. I would have liked to see Orion Pax continue to blindly believe in Megatron, and Megatron continue to choose decisions ultimately leading him further and further from the path of his ideals. You get a sense that he's doing things, he's manipulating everyone including Pax, but you never really see it completely as an audience. And that's the biggest problem right there. It's one thing to hide it from other characters, but the audience can see everything. Use it to your advantage, don't dance around. It's the little things that add up, building the questions in our minds, the tension exploding in the end. And I believe the moment when Megatron parts in anger from Orion Pax would be better served and believed if I'd seen the proper build up and execution of how he feels betrayed. As it is I was told how to feel, not allowed to emotionally get there on my own. And the relationship was short lived.

I mean I knew in the end that these two would end up on opposite sides. But in the beginning Megatron's ideals are valid. I was waiting for the cracks in his methods to really show. I was anticipating seeing a naive Pax learn the truth of who Megatron really meant to serve. The foreshadowing was definitely there. I expected to see this explode with Pax being critically injured in a battle that was hinted at and the experience illustrating with exactness in every way why the two ended up on the sides they chose. But I didn't get it.

It was the biggest disappointment I think I got out of this book. Everything after that point fell apart.

The next thing the novel did is something I cringed at. The next chapter completely broke the pace of the novel in several ways. 1. The short chapter standard that had been working for the story was now instantly lengthened breaking the pace. 2. It was a entry by entry description or journal writing of Alpha Trion, who had only played the role of mentor up until that moment, telling what was going on with the war on Cybertron. (Telling me, not showing me, a very weak way to develop a story.) And 3. it slowed the story down to a complete stop in terms of my caring about any of them. It's purpose was meant to just stick all the information you needed to know about the war so we could pick the story up further on in the conflict to lead into where ever the author meant to take us in the end.

It was a cheap way to explain how Optimus Prime and Megatron become who they are in the end and not really develop the characters in the battles and decisions they would have to face in the middle of the book. Once you are on the other side of this long chapter of journal entries you then follow Megatron on his rampage of evil and Optimus Prime's struggle to catch up. But really the audience never fully recovers from the lack of emotional disconnection about these two great characters. They were built up in the first one hundred pages of the book wonderfully and then the audience is left hanging in the middle and wondering how they came to be the characters they are in the end. It was very disappointing not going on their journey because on the other side they were different characters from the time we left them in the council chambers. The info dump from the start would have been forgivable if the whole rest of the book had carried through with what it had established in the first thirteen chapters.

Another point that didn't sit well with me was the idea of The Covenant of Primus and the Quill with which Alpha Trion wrote the Covenant. It's a special book that holds the past, present, and future which can be changed with uncertainty. And the future writings could barely be read by Alpha Trion himself who had wrote it. For all the science fiction laws this universe puts into place, the consistency in the world building of logical explanation, this is the one outrageous element I've crossed to date that did not make sense. When did fantastical magical books and coordinating pens enter this universe?! Maybe this is Hasbro's fault and not the fault of the author, but you can't tell me you couldn't come up with a better explanation of how Alpha Trion has access to the past, present, and future without writing it down in his tomb of magical somethings? I can get that Alpha Trion has this power because he is one of the Thirteen Original Cybertronians. He's the Archivist of their race, tucked into the Hall of Records, ignored and unappreciated. But a magical book he wrote, that he can't even read because the future chapters are written in the evolved language of their people? It was just a bit too far fetched to really believe and it felt like it was an element which jumped out of my close at hand Harry Potter books and into this one. The rules of this universe have been set and they have never included an element of fantasy in them, we aren't trying to write a genre-bender here so please go back to the drawing board and come up with a better explanation. I could think of a few myself and I haven't published anything.

The idea of Dark Energon is an intriguing concept but I failed to see why Megatron, who wants the planet recreated the way he wants it, would abandon everything for an experimental substance that may have a side effect he can't live with? Sure he is calculating, and he wants to win, but is he that reckless? And maybe this idea of him jumping to Dark Energon use would have been more believable if I'd seen his transition illustrated over the whole novel and not the way it was given to us. It's one of the several casualties of this story, if only I'd had the chance to see it develop it may have given me something I could have understood why this character would be this way in the end. The consequences of the uses of Dark Energon are explained and even illustrated, but for some reason the stakes aren't realized by those who are using the substance. You would think the horror of what they jumped into prematurely would have driven some of the Deceptions forward or scared the others away. In any case, it wasn't the driving conflict I expected it to be and I'm still pondering why that is? Maybe the Autobots reaction to it wasn't realistic enough? The story seemed to glaze over their reaction as if they had already seen Dark Energon before and were well versed with what it was. However; the audience never really got to weigh the experience for themselves... we were again told the information but we never really saw and experienced it via Autobot or Decepticon perception with emotional integrity. Certainly the first three Decepticons who were forced to take it, reacted, but again it didn't have the long lasting effect I would have expected as the reader. And I can't put my finger on why?

The last weakness I found had less to do with the writing and more to do with the editing. The last fourth of the novel seemed to degrade considerably. The beginning once I fell in love with it was strong, and then the story gradually declined until the end where it suffered the most from ideas that were started and then never completed. It was like the forethought was there, and then never developed. It seemed as if the editor gave up at that point and left the writer to fend for himself in terms of bringing the story to a complete finish. There was one part where a dialogue response failed to even name who had spoken? I don't think I've ever read a book that felt so unfinished before. But the ending literally felt like a second or third draft and hadn't really had a chance to grace the desk of a good editor before being sent to the printers. Certainly there weren't any spelling or large grammar errors that popped out at me, but that is the problem. It looked like the spell check had been used, but they ran out of money to pay the editor so they just swept through it. It looked rushed and not only does the story suffer because of it, but the author appears as if he should be writing fiction for a younger audience. A story with a targeted juvenile audience, inclined for less detail, more simplicity. Which is a shame because I know this author can write. He has several other successful novels, which he wouldn't have published if he'd been terrible to begin with.

Which brings about my concerns that this novel was rushed through to completion. Pressures caused by Hasbro? Who knows? And why am I not surprised? When have transformer fans been given the professional consideration that we've given the corporate bigwigs when we open our wallets and buy the products they provide? Maybe we shouldn't? Certainly they are great at making and selling toys. But when it comes to creating and maintaining a world they outsourced to another creative back in the day to build, they fail. The fact we've waited twenty five years to finally have a history of a franchise that should have been written in stone a decade ago speaks more about what they think. Granted they are finally attempting to give the universe a little bit of respect, but only marginally. What they say, what they do, and what we get continues to fluctuate in terms of quality. The more I learn about this universe and the people running it the more I wonder why they don't only cater to their strengths and put individuals in charge who have the expertise and training to make the mediums they are weak in really shine. What do you expect from a toy company? I've heard this complacent statement too many times to count. I'm sorry but it is not wrong for me to expect and ask for better. I'm not angry about it. I review because I care enough to put my foot down and say this isn't good, and it can be.

Exodus is just another one of those fiction novels that will disappoint. It's a mediocre story. It could have been better if it had been executed with a thought out and clever plot structure. I can't knock the writer completely, because he did in fact, write the story. He did his part. What failed him was the editor who did not kick this back and tell the writer to fix it. Or to rearrange these elements to articulate the story more effectively. And maybe the editor did that once, but this story is far from polished, I'd say it needed a few more editing trips. Fire your editor. And if you are looking for a new one, I'm available.

It says it's a history book but it's still a story in the end and it could have been compelling. I think the only thing that is a selling point for this novel is the potential information and set up that may pay off in the future when we see what exactly they plan to do with Transformers: Prime. (If it has anything at all to do with this story. And I suspect it may.) In terms of where it fits with the War For Cybertron xbox 360 game, some of the details do not sync up but it does add to the overall understanding that the game fails to explain. But if those things mean little to you, I wouldn't say this is a novel you need to get. The will summarize the details adequately to bring you up to speed. It's too bad too, because I know there are many fans out their hungry for a really well written Transformers fiction. Looks like the best stuff out there is still the fan fiction favorite Eugenesis by James Roberts.

DateJuly 9th 2010  
Score 3 stars (3 out of 10)  

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