Trouble in paradise all starts with a Wraith cruiser shooting John Sheppard’s Puddle Jumper out of the sky. Sheppard awakes in his crashed air craft with no memory of how he and Teyla came to be there. Himself concussed, Teyla with a dislocated shoulder, Ronon and Radek Zelenka stuck on an island a half an ocean away, and Rodney McKay off at the Stargate trying to fix the D.H.D. (all the while wishing for some jackal repellent) makes the situation far from ideal. Things go from bad to worse when Sheppard and Teyla are taken captive by a group of natives who don’t quite know what to make of the strange visitors.
Death Game is an appropriate title for this Stargate Atlantis novel from author Jo Graham. And it is conveniently ironic, considering the story revolves around a mysterious competition called the “Games of Life.”
The book starts off with a promising beginning but unfortunately loses some of its momentum through the middle — for instance, with the simultaneous stories in which the team constantly engages. While it’s always nice to see a little more background of and insight into the characters from the television series, at times the stories became a bit monotonous.
And in John’s case, it’s not quite believable. It’s hard to picture the man who defies orders, risks Leavenworth, and ignores Generals now having sucked up to his dad for money. Also, considering how passionate Sheppard is about doing the right thing, protecting people, and never leaving a man behind, I would think he would have had a deeper reason for joining the U.S. Air Force than the scenario that was depicted in the book. Perhaps some of what wasn’t touched on in the show might be best left to each individual’s imagination. After all, sometimes it’s the mystery that keeps us intrigued.
A few other things felt a little out of place in the novel, such as the Puddle Jumper’s rear hatch being constantly referred to as the “back gate.” And Ronon — who had trouble understanding the concept of a TV in the Season Two episode “The Long Goodbye” — had such a good grasp of video cameras and the like. A bit odd seeing as the story seems to take place just a few short weeks after Ronon joined the team. It’s also hard to picture Teyla taking a copy of the book “Watership Down” with her in her BDU pants pocket on an off-world mission. This just doesn’t seem like something our practical Athosian would do. (And then there was McKay wearing SPF 50 instead of his own sunscreen concoction that he so proudly prattled on about to Major Lorne in the Season Two episode “Runner.”)
Rodney’s part in the story is rather minimal and Dr. Weir is almost nonexistent. In contrast, Radek Zelenka is practically the star of the show — so to speak.
On the plus side we get to see a brief glimpse at the awkward relationship between Lieutenant Cadman and Dr. McKay after the events of “Duet,” Ronon and Radek sail a boat upside down, Sheppard and Teyla briefly mistaken as husband and wife, and a memorable scene reinvented from The Lord of the Rings where Ronon and Zelenka must get across a dangerous trap set into the floor of the underground labyrinth:
Ronon grinned wolfishly. “You know that movie Sheppard had us watching last weekend on DVD? The really good one?”
“I do not.” Radek said. He tended to avoid movie night unless something he particularly liked was playing, as two hours of watching cars blow up bored him senseless.
“Where the guy says, ‘Never toss a dwarf’ and the other guy just picks him up and flings him?”
“Oh, that movie,” Radek said with a sinking heart. “You are not seriously considering …”
And there you have a classic example of Satedan resourcefulness. If you can’t shoot it, throw it.
The book has a lot of potential and the story does pick up again towards the end, as the Games of Life get under way. Although its not the best of the Stargate Atlantis novels to date, “Death Game” isn’t a bad read. A couple of the conversations seemed a bit incongruous with dialogue and topics of discussion found in the show. And I can’t help but be curious why a power source capable of producing an energy shield around an entire planet didn’t have McKay all but foaming at the mouth from excitement.
Though action and suspense are not the primary focus of the book the team still learns that “sometimes the nightmare starts when you wake up.”
“Stargate Atlantis: Death Game”
Author: Jo Graham
Paperback: 300 pages
Publish Date: October 2010
Publisher: Fandemonium Ltd.
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