Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: 'Fringe: Sins Of The Father' Just Makes You Miss The Long Gone Series

Fringe is gone, that’s just a hard fact of life that I’m going to have to accept. Luckily, I’ve had a couple of years to get used to this, which is more than enough time to marathon the entire series, a couple of times, just in case you’re wondering. And if you’re also a fan, it’s good to resign yourself to this, because these Fringe novelizations—they’re really tie in novels, full of cursory stories from the lives of the main characters—just aren’t cutting it.

We’re on the third, Fringe: Sins of the Father, which just came out. The first, The Zodiac Paradox, follows a young Walter Bishop and William Bell as they romp through the Bay Area in the late 1960s and match wits with the Zodiac Killer (not joking). Book two, The Burning Man, follows a young Olivia and her first experiences with Walter’s drug Cortexiphan. This latest installment, as you may guess from this pattern, tells of the adventures of Peter Bishop as he bounces around the globe, pulling scams, and trying to stay one step ahead of vengeful loan shark Big Eddie. While this is a part of Peter’s life we don’t have much insight into, and an area of interest, the book doesn’t have much to recommend it.

This is the Peter before Liv finds him, before he starts down the path that makes him the good man he ultimately becomes in the series. And basically he’s just a horrid piece of shit. When you first meet him, he’s sleeping with prostitutes and attempting to hustle Korean and Chechen gangsters out of their cash, not caring if they die as a direct result of his actions. He’s charming, as his character can be, but it’s all in a self-serving, out-for-number-one way that makes it hard to like him, and that’s a huge problem. The main thrust of the story has him trying to scam a scientist who he thinks is trying to cure epilepsy. Of course, there’s more to it, but he doesn’t know that.

A big part of the fun of Fringe is all the weirdness, all the strange, otherworldly phenomena and outlier science. So much of that comes from Walter, and Peter’s association with Olivia and the FBI, that wasn’t a part of his life before. The issue is, Sins of the Father tries to shoehorn Fringe events into the story where they don’t belong and where they don’t make sense in a bigger picture, and he magically has no recollection of them later, when such things might occur to him.

We’re not talking about minor events here, either; not simple little weird things or unusual incidents that could possibly slip your mind. There a number of memorable, remarkable things that go down, like he witness crazy ass mutations, sees into other universes, and saves Obama’s life at a political fundraiser. You might be forgiven for thinking some of these things might have come up in casual conversation somewhere in the five years Fringe aired on Fox.

And Peter just doesn’t seem right, as a character. This is a man who faked credentials and taught at MIT, a guy with a genius level IQ, whip smart and thorough, but he’s not that person here. You’ve seen him assist Walter in the lab, competent and holding his own, but there’s a scene here where he’s helping Dr. Julia Lachaux—who has a forced connection to him and his father—in a lab, and he’s not exactly lost, but he’s not at the same level as the person who participates in Walter’s experiments and schemes.

Writing someone that intelligent is no easy feat, and author Christa Faust, who also penned the previous two books, never quite pulls it off. He’s intelligent, but not in the way that Peter needs to be. Not to mention the fact that he’s inconsistent, bouncing wildly from selfish and only concerned with his own wellbeing, to out of nowhere having a deep regard for strangers and people he barely knows. You get that Faust is trying to show the good inside of him, but the way it is approached is haphazard and all over the place.

The best, most interesting part of Sins of the Father are the parts that deal with Peter’s youth. Not how he interacts with Walter—who is also awkwardly inserted into a flashback, and we’ve seen plenty of his driven, inattentive father bits, so it’s not particularly engaging—but there are glimpses that show how he gets started down the path to being a con artist and career criminal. He never fits anywhere, never belongs, but he learns quickly that he has a talent for getting people to do what he wants, and you watch that part of him form from an early age. That’s essentially the main draw of this book, to see his life outside of his work on Fringe, but it never shows you enough to warrant your attention.

Aside from that one element, there’s not much to recommend Sins of the Father, unless you’re a diehard Fringe fan jonesing hard for a fix. But even then, the entire series is available to stream on Netflix, and I know you’ve watched it a bunch of times already, but you’re just not going to find what you’re looking for here.  

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