Over at BW I’ve been doing an article series called “Chapter By Chapter”, where I review a book one chapter at a time. My inaugural book was a Transformers novel, based off of a recent (and very good) Transformers video game,. (I tried posting it here but there was no feedback and I only have one article a week.) When I’m done reading the book there I will come here and give an overview with the thought of whether or not I’d like to read it again. (Reading a book again years later? Whaaaaaaaat?) So let’s take a look at this book and see if it is worth a re-read, or if it was ever worth reading in the first place.
By the way, if you want to see my chapter by chapter review, click here.
Transformers: Exodus – The Official History of the War For Cybertron
WRITER: Alex Irvine
PUBLISHER: Del Ray (an imprint of Random Publishing House)
BOOK DESIGN: Elizabeth A. D. Eno
PUBLISHING DATE: 2010
FORMAT: hardcover novel
Plot: Based off of the video game, Transformers Exodus isn’t a long story but a series of events written as a long form narrative. We see Megatron’s rise to power from the gladiator pits to creator of the Decepticon movement, and his effect on an Autobot named Orion Pax. Megatron learns about a substance called Dark Energon, a corrupted form of the Transformers’ power source, Energon. It can superpower a Transformer, but its addictive, can be burned through quickly, and hard to produce. As the war goes on, Orion becomes the new leader, Optimus Prime, and must lead the Autobots against Megatron and his Dark Energon, but he may have to make a hard decision that will risk their way of life to save the planet.
Analysis: Let me get the biggest complaint out of the way first. Transformers: Exodus is not a proper translation of the story that takes place in War For Cybertron. While some events do occur in the game, others take place out of sequence or beyond fleshing out the backstory of the game (which I assumed this book was for) to the point of contradicting what I saw while playing the game. In Irvine’s defense, he could simply have had an early or incomplete script, a fate that has befallen many movie adaptations in the past. The book came out around the same time as the video game, so this is likely. Still, at one point in my “Chapter by Chapter” reviews I started referring to the book as being loosely based on the game.
One of the things that can’t be blamed on the early scripts is Irvine’s desire to “namedrop” various locations and concepts from other media, like the older comics and cartoons. Places like Six Lasers Over Cybertron (a place mentioned in the Beast Wars cartoon) and McAdam’s Old Oil House (seen in the UK comics and showing up in convention comics recently) are there just to show that Irvine researched Transformers names to appeal to fans. It seems out-of-place when bringing up the location seems to be there just to be there, like if I were to mention the Rocky Mountains for no good reason.
There are concepts that he just gets wrong, though. The two biggest examples are “Combiners” and “Minicons”, and while neither usage would necessarily lose a casual fan, or someone who just wanted to read a good science fiction war story, as a fan I know that Combiners are special teams and that Construction is the name of one group, not one type. “Minicons” are thrown onto any small robot, like the cassette tape robots that work with Soundwave, when Minicons in Transformers lore are smaller Transformers that can enhance certain normal-sized Transformers, at least in one toy line. This would also take me out of the story.
There was also a personal nitpick, as Irvine chose Megatron’s origin–not given in the game so this needed fleshing out–from a version that I don’t personally care for, and mixing origins for Optimus Prime from different continuities, but that’s more BW than Clutter Reports. What I will add is that Irvine takes elements of the movie (mostly the launch of the All-Spark into outer space) that I haven’t seen happen in the game.
The chapters themselves are rather short compared to most books, only about five or six pages with a size font that’s between “large reader” and normal. (Then again, I prefer smaller paperbacks to hardcover, so this may be the norm for font sizes.) It doesn’t divide between events and some scenes will actually continue from one chapter to the next. It makes me wonder if someone thought a video game player wouldn’t have the attention span to read more than that, although I had to read at least three chapters a session to get any decent read time out of it. This wasn’t a junior novel so I question this move.
So did I like anything about this book? After this, yes. Fan nitpicks aside and ignoring the “loosely based” aspect of the story, I can treat this as yet another corner of the Transformers multiverse and perfectly enjoy the story. Irvine sets up his version of Cybertron society (something we rarely get in Transformers stories, even if I don’t personally care for his vision) very well as well as motivations for the characters. By giving us scenes from the war, there is room for sequels set between big events. You believe these versions of Megatron and Orion/Optimus and the world they live in (when the geographic namedropping works, such as the attack at the aforementioned Six Lasers amusement park).
Irvine doesn’t necessarily say Megatron or Optimus’ vision for a new Cybertron is the right or wrong one, and only lightly paints the current forced caste structure as a problem. Mostly the current system is rejected by both sides, but there is a disagreement over what should replace it and that is what triggers the war. Personal gripes aside, it’s a well-told story and I was interested in all of these characters. Irvine even wrote my second or third favorite variation of Starscream, a character that too often gets written as a coward with delusions of grandeur. Here he is scheming and manipulative, and there were times I thought he just might have some points that Megatron rejects because it doesn’t fly with his personal goals. I want to see more of this kind of Starscream, which has only shown up in early IDW comics and the recent Transformers: Prime cartoon (my current favorite variation of Starscream).
Decision: My fan nitpicks and personal preferences aside, Transformers: Exodus may be a poor translation of the video game it claims to be adapted from, but once you get past that you have a very good Transformers story that frankly I want to read again at some point. So I plan to keep this book around and maybe get to read again when I can completely divorce it in my head from the video game (which I highly recommend, and a sequel has been announced for).