T2: Infiltrator, S.M.Stirling

Harper Collins, 2001, 389 pages, C$37.95 hc, ISBN 0-380-97791-5

I was in a bookstore, looking at the pile of remaindered books and felt torn between two futures, determined by me buying the book or not.

On one hand, I loathe media-derived SF. It’s hard enough to find good original SF that authors who slum at playing by another person’s rules probably don’t fully deserve the title of “science-fiction author”. If you’re going to be restrained by a defined universe, why don’t you simply write contemporary fiction? The very intent of SF is to make us play with interesting new possibilities, not to dive once again in a tired old conventions.

On the other hand, I really do hold the TERMINATOR film franchise in high regard. James Cameron’s time-travel thrillers might not be overly original, but they were certainly a great pair of filmed SF tales, not to mention a pair of excellent action movies. Any “officially approved” novel, especially when written by a “real” SF author like S.M. Stirling, would be a welcome thing.

So I picked up T2: Infiltrator. Maybe, in some alternate universe, this space is occupied by the review of a soul-stirring modern classic, a masterpiece of deep personal resonance and disquieting social implications. Maybe, in that parallel universe, not picking up a book has led me to a fateful encounter with a stunning red-headed physicist/supermodel…

But in this universe, you’re stuck with my bitter review of S.M. Stirling’s cash-grabbing T2: Infiltrator. And, oh boy, are you going to regret it.

Nah, I’m kidding.

Truth is, T2: Infiltrator isn’t that bad a novel. Stirling is too professional a writer to let a bad book slip under his watch, and if I’m not particularly impressed by Infiltrator, I’m not completely dismissing it either.

On the other hand, well, I’m not particularly enthusiastic about it.

T2: Infiltrator picks up nearly ten years after the events of JUDGEMENT DAY: Sarah Connor and her son John are living in South America, having successfully established new identities. They think they’re safe, both from Skynet and from the US government, who have branded them both as terrorists for their attack on Cyberdyne.

But they’re wrong on both counts. Not only does the US government pick up their trail (a hideous coincidence makes it so that the “original human model” for the T-8000 is their new neighbor; he just happens to be an ex-special forces operative), but Skynet, after much mumbo-jumbo, sends another agent to track down and destroy John Connor. This time, Skynet has sent back a specially-trained human agent who, it hopes, will blend in a little bit better and be able to perform her mission. As if it wasn’t enough, Cyberdyne is back on-line (thanks to off-site backups and the remnants of an arm found in the foundry at the end of the second film) and Miles Dyson’s brother is an FBI agent who has sworn to track down his sibling’s killers.

It’s not a particularly promising premise. Not only does it retread the first two films (once again, Sarah and John must elude killers, yadda-yadda), but it does so with far too much of a wink; inserting the “human” T-8000 is almost a wee bit too contrived, probably to help readers imagine Arnold S. in the story.

But the execution does little to improve on the premise. The book is very wordy; a fatal flaw when taking off from a visual source. Re-reading William Wisher’s novelisation of T2, I was struck at the breakneck pace at which it flowed; in comparison, Infiltrator is like molasses, even during its action scenes.

Even worse; by the end of the book, it’s obvious that this is a first volume of a series that might be very, very long. A considerable number of loose ends are left untied and ripe for sequels. Oh joy. The worst is that I probably won’t be able to help myself, and will read them anyway. Unless a future version of myself can somehow come back and warn me against them, naturally.

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