All The Futures Past: Terminator Salvation Book Reviews

As a devoted fan of the Terminator franchise, it's frustrating to know that its future has not yet been set. While the rumor mill claims that Universal is looking to produce a fifth Terminator film with Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) directing and Chris Morgan (Wanted) writing the script, the rights to the franchise are still in limbo and will probably remain so for some time to come. Thus, as a killer robot aficionado who is still suffering from severe withdrawal due to the cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I've been jonesing to get my hands on any Terminator stuff that I can find.

This post is my review of four books that were released under the Terminator Salvation title. This selection consists of three novels--Cold War by Greg Cox, and From the Ashes and Trial By Fire by Timothy Zahn--and the Terminator Salvation prequel graphic novel (its actual title is Sand in the Gears) by Dara Naraghi and Alan Robinson. Each provides an interesting picture of the post-Judgment Day war with the machines from various locations and perspective, and each do a great job of showing what kind of harsh, desolate and desperate place the world has become since the rise of the machines. They also provide insight regarding how survivors initially perceived the threat of Skynet. Since none of these stories feature the most advanced infiltrator Terminator models such as the T-800, T-1000 or T-X, there's a lingering mood of confusion and fear among the characters in these stories as they fight against a faceless, unfathomable enemy.

Overall, I think that each book makes interesting contributions to the Terminator saga, and they are worthy additions to the collection of any Terminator fan. Read on ...

Before getting into an in-depth review, here are some basic details about the books:
  • As the overarching series title implies, each of the books take place in the Terminator timeline that branches from the events in Terminator 3.
  • None of the books feature any kind of time travel--no time paradoxes, no parallel timelines.
  • These books are part of the first series of Terminator stories that I've read since the long-defunct NOW Comics' Terminator series that take place entirely in the future. However, the storytelling style and quality of the Terminator Salvation books are far superior than that of NOW Comics.
  • Of the four books, only Trial By Fire takes place after Terminator Salvation.
  • Sand in the Gears and Cold War are about resistance fighters in areas outside of Los Angeles and who only have fleeting contact (if any) with John Connor and the main leaders of the resistance movement. In contrast, From the Ashes and Trial By Fire were written as narrative bookends for the Terminator Salvation movie. This review will be approached along the lines of these differences.

Both Sand in the Gears and Cold War feature narratives that shift between two locations and two casts of characters. Sand in the Gears alternates between a resistance cell in Detroit and a cell in Niger. Both cells are part of a coordinated resistance strategy called "Sand in the Gears", a strategy designed to shock and awe Skynet (so to speak) before launching the signal-jamming plan that's a major part of Terminator Salvation. Cold War's two intertwining subplots not only involve two locations, but two different times. The one subplot takes place in 2003 aboard the Gorshkov, a Russian nuclear submarine commanded by Captain Dmitri Losenko, in the days, weeks and months after Judgment Day, while the other subplot takes place in 2018 Alaska where a small resistance cell led by ex-park ranger Molly Kookesh plans to destroy a uranium mining operation run by Skynet. Both subplots become more intertwined as the novel progresses, until they merge into a single plot in the intense final act.

Since the word “Terminator” is on the title of both books, I don't think that I'm ruining anything by saying that the human casualties are pretty high in both books, including major characters. In a nice touch of continuity between the two books, Cold War makes a brief reference to the Niger story in Sand in the Gears.

While both books are good reads, Cold War is the juicier, more involving story. Not only does Cox go into greater depths regarding his characters, but he also provides plenty of details about the war against Skynet between 2003 and 2018. In particular, Cold War provides additional glimpses into the background of General Hugh Ashdown, the founding leader of the resistance who was played by Michael Ironside in the Salvation movie, including the notion that Ashdown was directly involved in the development of Skynet itself. After reading Cold War, I think that it would be fun to read a novel about key events in the Terminator universe--such as those surrounding Miles Dyson, the aftermath of the police standoff at Cyberdyne in Terminator 2, the Judgment Day events in Terminator 3, and the immediate years afterwards--told exclusively from his point of view.

In contrast, Timothy Zahn's From the Ashes and Trial By Fire focus mostly on the characters in Terminator Salvation--John Connor and his wife Kate, Kyle Reese, Star, Barnes, and Blair Williams--as well as introducing a few new characters into the Terminator saga. From the Ashes explores what life is like for survivors in post-Judgment Day Los Angeles, as well as adding some background to Salvation's plot points such as Kate's pregnancy and why Los Angeles is so deserted by the time Marcus Wright arrives there. Of particular note is the introduction of Sergeant Justo Orozco, an ex-marine and surrogate father figure for Reese and Star who protects a group of survivors in a run-down apartment building.

The only thing that disappointed me about From the Ashes is that even though it is a prequel novel for Terminator Salvation, its plot does not involve the research base seen in the beginning of Salvation or Skynet's command center in San Francisco seen towards the end. However, the plot of Trial By Fire revolves around both of these locations and their larger significance for the resistance.

Trial By Fire picks up almost immediately after Terminator Salvation, and Zahn does a great job at expanding upon the repercussions of the events in Salvation. The novel has two major subplots: Reese's first mission under the command of John Connor, and Barnes and Blair's examination of Skynet's desert lab, which provides more tantalizing clues about Marcus. Their search leads them to a town named Baker’s Hollow, a town with many dark secrets of its own. Dr. Serena Kogan, who was played by Helena Bonham Carter in Salvation, is not mentioned in this book; however, Zahn’s story provides more clues as to how Marcus ties in to the development of the T-800, and how Skynet's usage of humans as guinea pigs leads up to the creation of an effective infiltrator unit.

The Terminator Salvation books prove that there are many more stories just waiting to be told in the Terminator universe, particularly those that don’t involve time travel. Given the franchise's fractured record of who owns the rights to which characters, it’s uncertain as to whether we’ll be seeing the likes of Ashdown, Barnes, Blair, Kookesh and Orozco again. Nevertheless, these books feature some great stories that should keep Terminator fans happy until the next chapter of the Terminator saga appears on the silver screen.


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