This review of the StarCraft: Ghost – Spectres novel by Nate Kenyon is of the spoiler-free variety.
The universe of StarCraft is largely overlooked by its massive and continually growing audience. That isn’t a knock entirely on the community, Blizzard is partly to blame. It’s difficult to remain interested in a universe when original, core material can take a decade to move forward. The only sustenance being a sprinkle of little-marketed novels and other materials to keep one interested. Being the successful team that it is, the issue is being corrected. Blizzard realized the plight and has been working hard to highlight the depth of its sci-fi universe since the successful release of StarCraft II.
The latest in the Extended Universe blitz for StarCraft is StarCraft: Ghost – Spectres. Players of StarCraft II‘s stellar campaign should be intimately aware of what a Spectre is, but the name of the author, Nate Kenyon, may escape them. Nominated for multiple awards for his work in the horror genre, Nate has been trying his hand at the science fiction genre as of late. His skillset is an interesting risk in the sci-fi universe, one that works incredibly well for a novel centered around the shadowy Ghost program and its rebellious offshoot, the Spectres.
Nestled in between the activities of StarCraft: Ghost Academy and the game’s campaign, Spectres focuses on Gabriel Tosh and Nova Terra, former class and squad mates at the Ghost Academy. Thanks to the Ghost program’s protocol of brain panning after missions, Nova remembers little, if anything, of her past. That is until she comes across a mysterious gas called terrazine that raises the Psi Index of anyone that consumes it. Another effect of the gas is the unlocking of previously hidden memories, defying the all-important brain pan protocol. The downsides are hallucinations, hardcore addiction and aggression. A dangerous mix of benefits and drawbacks that could make the most disciplined warrior off balance.
Couple the madness and Ghost skills with Gabriel Tosh’s knowledge of Mengsk‘s inhumane acts and the plot begins to reveal itself. Tosh, a former pawn of Mengsk, wants to take down the leader of the Dominion for being as corrupt and horrible as the Confederacy of Man and its Old Families. Tosh realizes he can’t do it alone, attempting to “recruit” former Team Blue members and, taking a page out of the Pimp Handbook, hooking other, lesser ghosts on terrazine to bolster his ranks.
Kenyon did a fantastic job reiterating the background of the major characters for those that may have skipped over the original Ghost spin-offs plotlines. He selects key points in StarCraft: Ghost – Nova and the follow-up manga, StarCraft: Ghost Academy, to interject in his plot. The tidbits are added subtlety, giving the reader a view into the character’s growth, while maintaining immersion in the current timeline. This is made easier thanks to a key component of the life of a ghost, getting brain panned at the end of each mission. No need to creatively draft a reason for a memory to fade in, it can easily be an unintended hallucination or a brain pan wearing off! Some may see it as a writer’s crutch. That’d only be true if it was overused or forced. That was not the case.
The action and monumental acts against the Dominion aren’t only predicated from past events. The character development of Tosh and Nova speak to later events in the timeline, such as their interaction in the Wings of Liberty campaign. It’s unfortunate that Blizzard missed doing more with its own subplot for the game, but readers get a nod to those events, including a mention of New Folsom Prison, during Tosh’s terrazine-fueled acts of revenge.
Spectres is a terran-heavy piece of lore. The zerg swarm makes a cameo appearance, while the protoss hardly get a mention. The focus isn’t horrible, as we get to see the most human storyline progress further, but frankly, it’s the only drawback one can find. Kenyon may have filled in for DeCandido, but the plot he produced is superb, retelling just enough of Ghost Academy, linking to other material, smothering it with action and progressing a handful of important terran characters. The attention to detail and the borrowed universe will entice any read to pick up one of Kenyon’s original pieces. StarCraft junkies would be fools to skip over Spectres, especially if they already missed Ghost Academy.
Still waiting on a few zerg-centric novels. Heart of the Swarm‘s impending release will hopefully provide.
Interested in exploring StarCraft‘s recent lore further?
You can purchase a hardcover edition of the recent James Raynor tandem – Heaven’s Devils (our review) and Devil’s Due (our review) – for less than $11 each, or save about a buck on the paperback edition. It’s prequel, StarCraft: Ghost – Nova, is years old but still easy to find. StarCraft: Ghost Academy (our three reviews), the excellent manga from recently-closed Tokyopop, is likely to become a collector’s item in short order.
Nate Kenyon is reportedly continuing his relationship with Blizzard by way of the Diablo franchise, working on Diablo: The Order. His other works include Prime, The Reach and Sparrow Rock, to name a few.
Head over to the Extensive Extended Universe post for all the available material from StarCraft and all of Blizzard’s properties.