Apr 15, 2014

[Books] Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox

I rarely get into tie-in books for most TV shows that I watch. Sure, I have dabbled in Star Trek books and I have a ridiculous collection of Star Wars books, but for most shows I've generally stayed away from the medium. Such books are rarely considered "canon" from a story perspective, plus there are those instances when the stories are just...not great. They're passable and they use the characters from the show decently enough, but at the end of the day it doesn't quite feel right in terms of the original show.

But I took a gamble on Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox, primarily given how much I enjoyed the show and I was curious as to see what they would do the explore the characters further. And while it would be rather controversial to try and continue the Fringe story beyond the final episode (side note: why haven't I posted a review for the final season???), it was safe enough that they opted to explore the Fringe world before the show.

Admittedly I wasn't expecting all that much from this prequel adventure but the end results were pretty awesome. Certainly made for an enjoyable read and a nice glimpse at what their lives might have been like before all the science madness of the main show.

Synopsis: Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox is the first of three planned official tie-in novels set in the Fringe universe. This first book was written by Christa Faust and is supposedly considered to be part of the show's canon given the involvement of the Fringe creative team in crafting this story.

The book begins in the late sixties when a young Walter Bishop and William Bell are still experimenting with various batches of LSD that they've created as part of their scientific experiments. But in this particular case, their acid trip leads to their two minds synchronizing almost perfectly, the end result being the creation of a gateway into another dimension. And through this portal of sorts comes a man who somehow got dragged into the event. But the stranger escapes off into the night before the two scientists are able to question him to any degree.

It turns out that that man is actually a serial killer from a parallel Earth - one known as the Zodiac Killer. And now he has essentially escaped all history of his crimes and has a completely fresh start in this new world. After he gets his bearings and accepts the reality of his situation, he goes back into his old patterns and starts executing a series of baffling serial murders that leaves the authorities clueless - even despite the fact that the killer sends regular coded letters to them detailing just what he's about to do. In time Bishop and Bell will realize the link between the killer and their portal incident at Reiden Lake and try to take responsibility for their actions one way or another.

The book decides to employ the sort of back-and-forth narrative format that allows us to follow both our heroes and the shrewd Zodiac Killer. This narrative format can get pretty silly at times, but I think it was put to great effect here. There was a clear goal of wanting readers to better understand not just the motivations of the killer, but to also showcase the stranger side-effects of his cross-dimensional journey. And this wouldn't be a true Fringe adventure if we didn't push the potential for strange super science moments.

The main draw of this book is a closer look at the dynamic between William Bell and Walter Bishop - something that we never clearly saw in the TV series given that Bell was extremely secretive and Bishop was, well, literally brain-damaged. And I loved the sort of role-reversal that shows how Walter was more of a nice guy in his youth while William had more single-minded determination to push the limits of their scientific efforts.

The book also features a young Nina Sharp as one of the primary characters - which was certainly a lovely bonus in itself. Her young self wasn't too far away from her older incarnation as seen on the TV series. Beyond just having her in the story, the book also somewhat explores the special relationship between Nina and William, which goes a little beyond just a friendship or even a traditional relationship. There's a clear sense of mutual respect and admiration between the two - something that is first realized in this book and is explored beyond there.

I'm glad that the book did not pain them as amazing independent sleuths capable of solving complex crimes. In the TV series, they have the benefit of Fringe division itself being a specialized FBI group. Here we just have a group of young scientists trying to deal with someone who has directed his own intelligence towards more depraved goals of psychological torture and murder. And thus they do struggle to just keep pace with the killer for the most part while uncertain of aid from the police or the FBI.

Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox was quite the enjoyable read and a nice return to the Fringe universe. And if the part about this book being considered canon is also true, then we also have a great exploration of the origins of key Fringe characters and other story elements that become essential to the show as a whole. And thus the book gets a good 4 instances of Walter being his lovable, random self out of a possible 5.

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