He'll Be Back: Terminator 3 Book Reviews
A few weeks ago, I posted a review of three books that were published under the Terminator Salvation title, books that I read as a way satiating my need for new Terminator stuff. In the time since then, I was itching for more stories about bloodthirsty, belligerent 'bots from the future, so I decided to pick up copies of two books that were released under the Terminator 3 title: Terminator Dreams and Terminator Hunt, both by Aaron Allston. Since both the Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation books are set in similar narrative timelines--both feature Kate Brewster as a primary character, and both place Judgment Day in 2003--it was interesting to compare the differences and similarities between how both sets of books view the future war with Skynet. Read on for my review of Allston's books and how they relate to the Terminator Salvation books.
Both Terminator Dreams and Terminator Hunt take place in 2029, after John Connor and his team of Resistance fighters sent Kyle Reese and two Terminator units, a T-800 and T-850, back to the past to protect John and his mother Sarah before Judgment Day. While Connor and his wife Kate play major roles in both books, each book has its own main character. In Terminator Dreams, the main character is Daniel Avila, a middle-aged, amnesic Resistance fighter who discovers that he has a Billy Pilgrim-esque ability to communicate with his younger self in the past, when he was one of the head programmers who worked on Skynet for Cyber Research Systems (CRS) in the years immediately leading up to Judgment Day. In Terminator Hunt, the main character is Paul Keeley, another Resistance fighter who is rescued from a research facility built by Skynet to train a T-X unit for a mission that could mean the end of both John Connor and the Resistance.
Terminator Dreams takes a very unique approach to the time travel stories that are common to the Terminator franchise. Because Daniel can't physically travel to the past, the narrative shifts back and forth between 2003 and 2029, alternating between how Connor and his team plan to use the older Daniel's ability to aid the Resistance and how the young Daniel's life is slowly torn apart as he realizes that his strange dreams are warnings from the future that his life's work will condemn the human race to near extinction. Connor's discussions with his senior staff are particularly intriguing, since this is the first Terminator story I've read where Connor has already told his subordinates about his true relationship to Kyle Reese and Skynet and how this information has become part of the Resistance's strategy now that Skynet is capable of time travel.
For as different as the time travel story is in Terminator Dreams in comparison to other Terminator time travel stories, it still has a bittersweet poignancy to it that bears some similarity to the story of Kyle and Sarah in the first Terminator movie. While this book doesn't detail how Miles Dyson's work at Cyberdyne was transferred to CRS, it does feature a new pre-Judgment Day Terminator model nicknamed Scowl. Scowl is a prototype of the successor model to the tank-like T-1 units seen in Terminator 3; it is shaped like the T-1, except that it is small enough to fit inside of a van and it has two arms in place of two .50-caliber miniguns.
The T-1 Series
Terminator Hunt takes place shortly after Terminator Dreams, and it involves Skynet's experiments with humans as part of its efforts to build better infiltrators--particularly T-X units. Paul's situation in Terminator Dreams is somewhat similar to Marcus Wright's in Terminator Salvation, in that he has become an outcast of sorts because of how he was compromised by Skynet. This story also bears some similarities to--as well as some intriguing divergences from--the human test subjects in the Terminator Salvation: Trial By Fire book. Terminator Hunt mostly follows Paul's path back to being a trusted member of the Resistance as he uses the knowledge he gained while under Skynet’s control to help Connor and his team with their latest mission, but it also sheds more light on the T-X series of Terminator and its place in the future war.
The T-1000 series is mentioned a few times throughout Terminator Hunt, but it never makes an appearance. Then again, given how obviously lethal the T-1000 and T-X series are and how few Resistance soldiers survive close encounters with them, Allston portrays the soldiers as regarding these models with an almost larger-than-life fear and talking about them in hushed tones. Terminator Hunt includes the character of Glitch, a T-850 unit that was reprogrammed by the Resistance. While Glitch doesn't utter any catch phrase lines such as "Hasta la vista, baby" during the course of the book, his inclusion in the narrative provides an interesting--and sometimes humorous--example of how Resistance teams utilize and interact with reprogrammed Terminator in the field. T-600s also make cameo appearances in this book, as do Terminators that Allston refers to as "assault robots". The assault robots somewhat match the description of the T-900 units from Atari's Terminator 3 games, but I could see why Allston would not be allowed to name them as such due to copyright restrictions.
T-900 Conceptual Art
Allston is a very talented writer and even though his style of writing is lighter and breezier than the styles that Timothy Zahn and Greg Cox used in their Terminator Salvation books, his stories feature fleshed-out characters, compelling and well-paced plots, and detailed examinations of the ruined world that serves as the backdrop for humanity's fight for survival. One of the most noteworthy features of Allston's books is that he provides the reader with detailed glimpses into the thought processes of Terminator units and Skynet itself. Allston clearly knows how computers work, and he effectively applies that knowledge to his dramatic portrayals of machines that are self-aware and capable of high levels of cognition but are still machines just the same. In Terminator Dreams, it's revealed that Skynet's plan against humanity did not arise from a split-second decision but was orchestrated over a much longer period of time. Reading how Skynet carefully analyzes human behavior, predicting how humans respond to particular stimulus it provides and how it uses this information to plan future actions, answers quite a few questions about how Skynet views the world around it and what kind of enemy humanity is fighting against after Judgment Day.
The timeline present in the Terminator 3 books is largely compatible with the timeline in the Terminator Salvation books. The only two notable inconsistencies are that the Terminator 3 books make no mention of a military hierarchy commanding the Resistance before Connor's rise to power, and the ages of Connor and Kate's children in the books contradict the year of Kate's first pregnancy in the Terminator Salvation timeline. (Oddly, even though Allston's books mention that Connor and Kate have three children, only one--Kyla, a 17-year-old expert sniper--appears in the books.) Blair Williams and Barnes, two of Connor's most trusted allies in the Terminator Salvation timeline, are not present in Allston's books. Then again, given how brutal and drawn out the conflict is with Skynet, it's not unreasonable to assume that Connor's closet friends and subordinates from one year would be dead by the next.
The T-X Endoskeleton
In spite of these differences, I would encourage Terminator fans to read these books according to their narrative chronologies, reading Cox and Zahn's books first and the Allston's. I make this recommendation because given how disorganized the Terminator franchise is in terms of who owns the rights to which characters and plots, these five books represent the closest thing to a (mostly) consistent, ongoing story of the future war that emphasizes how the war has changed from 2018 to 2029. Such a continuity makes it easier for fans to appreciate just how grueling this post-nuclear, three-decade-long conflict can be, as opposed to just seeing it in brief flashbacks. For example, the Resistance still has some air fighting capabilities in 2018, with the usage of carefully maintained helicopters and Warthog jets. By 2029, the Resistance has lost almost all of its air craft, and has begun to transition from refurbishing ancient military vehicles and weapons to producing new weapons of their own and seizing Skynet's plasma-based weaponry. Overall, the Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation books give the future war an extra sense of history and dramatic depth, something that none of the other Terminator movies, TV shows, books and comics have been able to do.
In closing, I highly recommend Aaron Allston's Terminator 3 books, both of which are great additions to the reading list of any Terminator fan. It should also be noted that I picked up hardback editions of both books through Amazon at a great price--less than $10 per book, not including shipping and handling costs--so go get your copies now while supplies last.