The X-Files: Ground Zero

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

Goblins | Whirlwind

I apologise for the lack of reviews over the last few weeks – I’ve had a bit of a rough time of late. Still, hopefully that is now all over with and so I can get back to working through my ominous “to read” pile…

For tonight’s review, I will be returning to the series of original The X-Files novels that were published between 1994 and 1998. This was a collection of six full-length stories by three different authors that presented self-contained adventures for Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully which were never made into episodes. Today, I’ll be looking at the third novel – Ground Zero by Kevin J Anderson. And there will be spoilers. You have been warned…

Dr Emil Gregory has worked as a nuclear weapons researcher for decades and is proud to have been involved with dozens of top-secret projects. Yet his most recent one – code named Bright Anvil – is set to be the most incredible of them all. Unfortunately, Dr Gregory does not live to see it come to fruition. He is found in his remarkably intact office, burned to a crisp by radioactive fire.

As the death occurred on Federal property, Mulder and Scully are quickly called upon to investigate. However, it’s not long before they realise that Dr Gregory is not the only one to have died in such a way. Several other victims are found with similar injuries and the only thing connecting them is that they have each had some association with nuclear weapons tests in the past.

It’s not long before Mulder and Scully discover a link to a protest group lead by a former assistant of Dr Gregory. Is it possible that they have something to do with the murders and, if so, what possible weapon could they have developed to exact their revenge? As Operation Bright Anvil draws closer, Mulder and Scully enter a race against to clock to find out who is responsible before they can endanger everyone involved in the project…

If you read my reviews of Goblins and Whirlwind, you might remember that I was not overly impressed by either of them. Both of Grant’s entries to the series felt a bit off. They were clumsy and a little dull on the whole, introducing too many auxiliary characters and never really capturing the personalities of Mulder and Scully. However, I had high hopes for Ground Zero. This was one of the few instalments of the series that I actually owned and, as you might be able to tell from the photo, I read it to death as a teen. I really hoped that re-reading this novel wouldn’t ruin my nostalgia for the story and, fortunately, I was not disappointed.

Ground Zero feels a lot more like a true episode of The X-Files. It is far better paced than the previous instalments of this series, following the general structure of the television show. While Mulder and Scully took their sweet time showing up in both Goblins and Whirlwind, this time they entered proceedings right after the opening kill and were not bogged down by any preamble or unnecessary introductions. Anderson seems to understand that the primary readership of this story is a person who is already a fan – the kind of person who wants to see Mulder and Scully, doesn’t need to know their back stories and doesn’t really care about the secondary cast (as they know that most of them are likely to die). While this does make the story harder for a newcomer to get into, it does mean that at least the target audience doesn’t get bored by huge paragraphs of exposition.

Yet, in some ways, this novel is eerily similar to Whirlwind. The Monster of the Week, in particular, seemed perhaps a little over-familiar. While Whirlwind introduced a spiritual entity that took the form of a deadly dust devil, Ground Zero’s nemesis also turns out to be rather ghostly – this time a terrifying host of angry spirits who lost their lives to an illegal nuclear weapons test. Yet, despite the similarities, the spirits of Ground Zero were a lot scarier. Not only were their origins a lot more terrifying, but the fact that they could strike anywhere (including in the middle of a secure government facility) made them far more threatening.

However, Ground Zero was still not perfect. Although this novel had a far smaller cast than previous instalments, it still often fell afoul of telling, rather than showing. This became more and more apparent as the novel progressed as, towards the climax, a lot of the villain’s backstory has to be exposited purely for Mulder and Scully’s benefit. I also felt that Anderson revealed his hand a bit too early, as the reader learns the truth behind the murders long before Mulder even manages to hit upon this.

While the pacing of the novel is generally decent, I did feel as though it sometimes got bogged down a little by the anti-nuclear message. Many chapters were given over to hammering this home, with some lengthy dialogue that delved into the history of nuclear weapon testing in America. While I can’t really vouch for how accurate this all is, I did find that these portions of the story were a bit heavy-handed. This was especially true as Scully revealed her deep sympathies for the protest group, which is something that is certainly never touched upon in the television series.

While the characters in the story were more polished than they were in Whirlwind, primarily due to the fact that there were far less of them, I did feel that Mulder and Scully still felt a little bit off. While I did appreciate that they played off each other better this time around, there was still something not quite right about their dynamic. Both still felt a little washed out, with Mulder being slow on the uptake concerning the obviously supernatural explanation, and Scully seeming to lack medical knowledge that she really should have had.

Still, at least the villain this time had a clear motive. While Ryan Kamida does not appear much in the novel, he very sympathetic and you certainly feel both his desperation and desire for revenge as the story progresses. My only real disappointment with the supporting cast is that you don’t really see what happens to them. As Mulder and Scully are forced to flee in the climax, we don’t ultimately learn what became of Kamida and the surviving members of the Bright Anvil team. You assume that it can’t possibly be good, but a bit of extra closure would have been nice.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. All in all, Ground Zero is the strongest instalment of this series to date. It certainly embodied the spirit of the show better than the previous two books and, despite not being perfect, left me with a lot of hope about where the series will go next. Here’s hoping that Anderson’s next instalment – Ruins – will be equally as strong.

The X-Files: Ground Zero can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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