I am a lack-lustre television viewer at the best of times, so perhaps it is unsurprising that I missed the foray surrounding FOX Entertainment’s science-fiction series Fringe.
Created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, Fringe premiered in 2008, ran for five seasons and 100 episodes, concluding in January of this year. Apparently I really have been living under a proverbial rock! The series follows Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), and Walter Bishop (John Noble), members of the FBI’s “Fringe Division” team, which use so-called “fringe” science to investigate a series of unexplained occurrences related to a parallel universe. This I learnt from an elementary Google search upon receiving a copy of Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox, which proudly announces its kinship to the TV series on the front cover.
Like any astute corporation with a popular franchise, FOX commissioned seasoned media tie-in author Christa Faust to write a three part series of prequel novels to be released throughout 2013.
Each will deal with the three members of the Fringe team’s past, beginning with Walter Bishop in The Zodiac Paradox. Christa Faust is not only a dab-hand at media tie-ins – she has written novelizations of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare at Elm Street and The Twilight Zone, to name but a few – but she is an author who writes “original” novels, indeed critically acclaimed ones: Money Shot won the 2009 Crimespree Award for Best Original Paperback.
Ultimately, I approached The Zodiac Paradox with the bare-bones of information, and no expectations.
The Zodiac Paradox is what it is – an attempt to cash-in on a television franchise – a novel catered towards fans of the show who were left with a cavernous Fringe cavity at the end of January.
Faust attempts to fill this gap with the back-story of Walter Bishop and his discovery a chemical compound that can link subconscious minds (a drug, I understand, that is a prevalent feature of the television series). The process of psychic connection induced by the compound inadvertently opens a portal into a parallel universe, through which a serial killer emerges. Adventure ensues as the murderer, dubbed ‘The Zodiac Killer,’ escapes and Walter and his accomplices, William Bell and Nina Sharp, attempt to find him and send him back from whence he came.
To a large extent, the narrative development is fast paced, making the book a quick and easy read. Plot is driven forth as Walter and his friends chase the killer, attempting far-fetched experiments involving “alpha wave synchronization and telepathy” (284), while they evade the corrupt FBI who are chasing them instead of ‘the bad guy.’ However, the narrative is interrupted by verbose descriptions that sometimes get in the way of smooth plot development; particularly annoying is the forced, scientific terminology that merely serves to baffle the reader:
“While your [Walter’s] argument for the inclusion of caffeine to provide an additional generalized arousal of the senses is both well-reasoned and valid, I would counter that the unique balance between phosphoric acid and citric acid in grape Nehi will better complement the biosynthetic ergoline compound in our newly formulated pharmacological launchpad.” (p. 9)
In attempting to portray Walter and William as nerdy scientists through such language, the use only serves to serrate the narrative. Her characterization of the main protagonists is thoroughly one-dimensional and annoyingly stereotypical. To further exasperate this situate, Faust does not even attempt to delve into the (potential) motives of the serial killer, which creates a flat, superficial villain.