By Marty Mulrooney
Dead Space: Catalyst by B.K. Evenson is a science fiction horror novel set within the Dead Space video game universe. Serving as a sequel to 2010’s Dead Space: Martyr (also written by Evenson), Dead Space: Catalyst is set 250 years in the future and centres around two brothers named Istvan and Jensi.
When he was young, Jensi Sato had no idea that anything was wrong with his brother. Istvan had always been the way he was – always a little off, obsessed with patterns and numbers, entranced by shifts in light, prone to sudden fits of rage or mental absence. Or he had changed so gradually that Jensi, around him every day, hadn’t noticed how different he had become.
In AMO’s review, Dead Space: Martyr was described as “a great tie-in novel that takes risks whilst remaining faithful to the Dead Space video games.” Catalyst builds upon the strong foundation established by the previous novel to offer further insight into the circumstances that eventually led to the events of the Dead Space series of video games.
Istvan and Jensi are two brothers who share very different personalities, growing up together under the poorest dome on Vinduaga. Jensi is a ‘normal’ person – that is, if normal can ever truly be defined – but Istvan is… different. He sees things that others cannot see and often finds patterns within the tapestry of the world, hidden messages in the seemingly mundane. He continually hears voices and has the most peculiar sensation that there is another reality – perhaps even a truer reality – overlapping this one.
There was his mother, lying sprawled on the floor, but that wasn’t important, she wasn’t important. She wasn’t part of the arrangement. She didn’t tell him anything about what was real. She was just in the way.
When their mother is transferred to a mental ward after nearly dying, Jensi is appointed a guardian to look after him but Istvan refuses to leave their old house. As Jensi grows older and starts to finally get used to a normal life, he often catches glimpses of his brother living rough, becoming more and more engulfed in a world that only he can see, retreating further into the delusions of his mind.
Istvan’s mental illness eventually culminates in him killing a politician – Jensi tries to intervene, but it’s too late. Istvan is arrested as a political prisoner and disappears. After being extensively tortured by ‘the gray man’, EarthGov sends him to Aspera, a seemingly unoccupied, uncolonised planet that houses a maximum-security prison and a secret research facility. The Black Marker – an ancient alien artifact discovered on earth eighty years earlier – is at the centre of this facility. It seems to be sending out signals that effect all of the prisoners at the nearby prison, and Istvan is effected most of all…
Running backward, he fired the pistol into its body, but it didn’t seem to have much effect. He fired into the head, burning a hole through the skull just above the eye, but the creature didn’t fall or even slow down. Holy shit, he thought, and began firing into its legs.
The main plot follows Jensi’s desperate search for his mentally ill brother, but there are also many other characters that populate the story. Scientists endanger humanity and EarthGov representatives are always lurking in the shadows pulling strings with dark intent. The brothers are well-developed characters – as is Jensi’s friend Henry – but the vast majority of the supporting characters are merely catalysts to move the plot along.
It’s an entertaining story, engaging and well-written, and is certainly the equal of the previous book. B.K. Evenson obviously has great respect for the franchise and that comes across in his writing. Those looking for a written version of the video games may come away feeling disappointed – the gore and blood-splattering action is held back until the very end. However, those who are keen to delve further into the backstory of the Dead Space universe will no doubt greatly enjoy Dead Space: Catalyst.
8 OUT OF 10