From the AshesTogether with Star Trek, Angels and Demons and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Terminator Salvation is among the most eagerly anticipated movies to be released this May. The film is the fourth big screen installment of the popular franchise that started back in 1984 with a low budget science fiction film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by the then-unknown James Cameron (Aliens, The Abyss, Titanic).

Aptly enough the Terminator franchise has refused to die, despite the mixed reviews enjoyed by the last sequel, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Many fans denied that film a place in the Terminator canon and McG, the director of Terminator Salvation, has supposedly stated that he doesn’t acknowledge it in the latest movie (although I have also read otherwise). Fans have given more respect to the television series spin-off from the films, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which follows on from events in Terminator 2. The series has struggled in the ratings but has been praised by several critics. Although it was not intended as a prequel to Salvation, it’s place in the Terminator timeline might allow it to serve as such, given the temporal twists that takes place in the franchise.

A deliberate attempt to set the stage for the events in Terminator Salvation can be found in the “official prequel” novel, Terminator Salvation: From The Ashes. This 318-page paperback book was written by Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn and is one of four books published by Titan Books to tie in with the new film (the other three are The Art of Terminator Salvation, Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion and the official novelization by Alan Dean Foster). Zahn won the Hugo Award in 1984 for his novella Cascade Point and has also written several Star Wars stories, the Dragonback and Quadrall series of books as well as numerous other short stories and novels.

Terminator Salvation: From The Ashes is set immediately before the events in McG’s film. It essentially describes how John Connor, one the central figures of Terminator mythology, becomes a respected member of the official resistance to Skynet, the computer system that triggered a nuclear holocaust to annihilate humanity. The plot is not complex but Zahn adds interest and depth to the story by making Connor part of an ensemble of characters that include his soldiers and a group of survivors living in the ruins of a Los Angeles condominium building (the building was formerly known as Moldavia Los Angeles but has been renamed Moldering Lost Ashes by the residents). Most of the action involving the occupants of the Ashes focuses on Hispanic U.S. Marine Sergeant Justo Orozco and two children, Kyle Reese and Star. Michael Biehn played a grown-up Reese in the original Terminator. In that film he goes back in time to protect Sarah Connor from Arnie’s Terminator and becomes the father of John Connor. Reese and Star also appear in Terminator Salvation, according to the cast list on IMDb. The character of Orozco has no existing place in Terminator lore, although coincidentally (perhaps) a young actor of Mexican heritage named Mario Orozco has appeared in episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Zahn’s novel begins with a chilling prologue in which Orozco witnesses the start of Judgment Day, the day on which Skynet launches its nuclear attack on the world’s major cities. He then disappears from the story briefly while Zahn introduces Connor’s small band of poorly equipped and highly vulnerable fighters. These include Connor’s wife Kate, who rails against her husband’s attempt to protect her from the dangers of battle. At the start of the novel Connor’s group has yet to prove its value to leaders of the Resistance. Their attempt to secure that respect with a significant against-the-odds victory against Skynet is what drives the rest of the book’s plot. It culminates in a  bleak, violent and compelling confrontation between Connor’s troops and a horde of T-600 Terminators that are trying to wipe out Orozco’s group in the Ashes. The book’s title is seemingly a reference to this battle, which ends on a note of hope for humanity’s future.

According to the back cover Terminator Salvation: From the Ashes, it is “the story you must read before the brand-new movie hits theaters”. Obviously that isn’t true, but it doesn’t mean this book isn’t worth reading. There isn’t anything thought provoking in its pages and it doesn’t add much depth to the mythology underlying the Terminator universe. It’s not meant to do either of those things, though. This is, after all, a tie-in novel for an action movie that looks likely to stimulate the adrenaline far more than it does the mind. Considered in that context, Terminator Salvation: From the Ashes is an undemanding but exciting read and it should get Terminator fans enthused about the film it prefaces.

Terminator Salvation opens in North American theatres on May 21st.

Michael Simpson is the Associate Editor of the film and TV website CinemaSpy.com and a freelance writer on a wide range of topics (CinemaSpy; Home).

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