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Last Tuesday saw the release of the second Gamma World novel since the 4e compatible ruleset came out. Titled Red Sails in the Fallout, it’s a fun romp across the Australian outback with plenty of action and imagination. It was written by a different author (Paul Kidd) than the first Gamma World novel (Sooner Dead), although you will have to forgive if I make some comparisons between the two.
The book’s main protagonists are Xoota (a prescient/felinoid quoll), Shaani (a radioactive/electrokinetic lab rat) and “Wig-wig,” (an empathic swarm of earwigs). They are joined later in the book by other party members who have their own quirks and strengths to add to the story, but I don’t want to be accused of spoilers, even small ones.
This book uses the same plot device as Huckleberry Finn: create a reason to leave home, set the characters adrift into the unknown, and engage them in random unrelated adventures along the way. It worked for Huckleberry Finn, and it works for Red Sails in the Fallout. Not only does it work, but it works splendidly. Plus, the book is funny – Paul Kidd doesn’t take Gamma Terra too seriously, which is good because, from what I can tell, most people who play Gamma World don’t either. Kidd does humor effortlessly, with off the cuff quips and humorous situations. The fact that the humor has an Australian twist only helps.
So, comparisons to Sooner Dead. First, in making these comparisons, I’m not saying one is better than the other – they’re merely differences. Both authors have handled Gamma Terra well, and in their own way. Sooner Dead focuses mainly on two protagonists who act as guides for a group of scientists, where Red Sails has more of a “traditional” party on a “traditional” quest that you would experience if you were actually playing Gamma World. Also, Sooner Dead makes no mention of Alpha Mutations or Omega Tech, where Red Sails features these elements of the game prominently. The characters even talk about “feeling new alpha mutations coming on.” Finally, where Sooner Dead makes no direct mention of specific origin types (to the point where I’m STILL not sure what Hella’s origins are), Red Sails states them loud and proud. It makes me wonder if Mel Odom (Sooner Dead’s author) wanted to play down these elements in his novel, or if it’s just that the book was simply commissioned as the game was still being developed.
Either way, that’s a strength of Sooner Dead. One of the problems with Red Sails is its assumption that the reader has played Gamma World. While this is probably a pretty good bet, alluding to the fact that “radioactive omega ale” can trigger “alpha mutations” without further explanation could leave some readers in the dark. There is quite a bit of “Gamma World vocabulary” that the author drops, and a quick explanation for the uninitiated would go a long way towards bringing more readers into the series, and maybe even more players into the game.
Small problems aside, I really enjoyed Red Sails in the Fallout. Not only was it an entertaining read, but it also made me want to get back into playing Gamma World. Most of the book’s plot had me imagining how I could drop a similar encounter into a Gamma World game. The plot and action are fast and furious, and the locales varied and exotic.
Finally, I will note that Wizards of the Coast has begun publishing their books for the Kindle (and probably other e-readers) which I think is a really smart move. It’s how I purchased the book this time around, and thus there was no waiting for Amazon to ship me the book on the day it was released. It was just there. Sooner Dead is also now available for Kindle (it wasn’t when it first came out).
If you’re looking for a fun beach read this summer, pick both of these books up.
If you’ve read the book, let me know what you thought in the comments!