Journal

Off The Shelf: Doom

The weird thing isn’t that there’s a Doom novel. It’s that there’s four Doom novels, each more insane than the last. They’re either the worst game novelisations ever written or the greatest that there will ever be, in no small part because you can see the exact point that everyone involved stopped giving the tiniest shit… and it’s the words “Chapter One.” Well, okay, technically just the number “1”. But you get what I mean.

The weird thing isn’t that there’s a Doom novel. It’s that there’s four Doom novels, each more insane than the last. They’re either the worst game novelisations ever written or the greatest that there will ever be, in no small part because you can see the exact point that everyone involved stopped giving the tiniest shit… and it’s the words “Chapter One.” Well, okay, technically just the number “1”. But you get what I mean.

Until this part, give or take a few flashbacks, the books are almost sane…

“Key, key, who’s got the key?” I asked. “Another typical day on the job. Teleport. Get a key. Open a door. Find a teleport.”
Arlene smiled. “I guess we’re in a rut.”

The first book, Knee Deep In The Dead, is as close as the series ever gets to sanity, and it’s still a long-distance call. It’s the story of the original Doom, all three episodes raced through at the speed of someone who just wants to cash the damn cheque already, and initially sticks pretty close to what little story it had.

The main character is a marine under arrest for punching a superior officer, who gets left behind with nothing but a pistol when things go badly wrong on Mars’ moon of Phobos and demonic creatures begin tearing up everything with a pulse but no horns. This time of course he does get a name, Flynn “Fly” Taggart, a partner/notably not girlfriend called Arlene (darkly but true, in reference to this book, one of the Columbine killers named his gun after her…), and most notably, internal monologue.

Enough bloody internal monologue to start a whole film noir PI agency…

Honor wasn’t just something you did to credit cards. A lie wasn’t called spin control, and spin was something you only put on a cue ball. Yeah, right, you think you know more about it than I? I know it was all BS, even in the Corps. I know the service was riddled up and down with lying sacks of dung, like everything else. “There is no cause so noble it will not attract fuggheads;” one of those sci-fi writers Arlene is always shoving at me, David Niven or something.

Now we had a moment to enjoy the new decor. The motif here was gleaming chrome and intricate, blued enamel. The appearance was rather sci-fi, actually… utterly misplaced, considering the monsters inhabiting it. But then, I didn’t subscribe to Better Homes and Demons.

Starting to see the problem here? Well, that’s nothing. Literally nothing. The first part of the first book is actually relatively sane, with Fly slamming his way through zombies and demons more or less as you’d expect, save a few odd details like the demons having a ‘sour lemon smell’, having a tendency to refer to himself as “Yours Truly”, and occasionally delivering outbursts like this one:

That was all that kept racing through my head, screaming the word over and over again between my ears… zombie, zombie, zombie! What utter shit. Maybe Arlene could believe in all that crap and bullroar; she watched those damned, damned horror movies all the—I wasn’t never going to watch anything like… a freakin’ zombie? I was crazy, buggin’, freaked like some hippie punk snot flying on belladonna.

Or the occasional bit of introspection…

I started feeling nauseated. My skin began to creep up and down my bones… If the zombie didn’t distinguish between yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then maybe it was telling me that Phobos was not the final target of the invasion; they were going to cross the River Styx, the river of the dead in Greek mythology. And what was on the other side? Well, hell, I supposed. Hades. But wait—if you were starting from hell, then “crossing the Styx” took you to… I swallowed the nausea back down. Sweat dripped down my forehead, stinging my eyes. The target was Earth. Terra mostly firma. Home sweet hovel.

It’s all absolute schlock, with desperation sinking in almost immediately. How do you get more out of Doom than “And then I walked down the corridor and I shot a zombie, and then I shot another zombie, and then I shot another zombie and found a red keycard!” The book tries to get around it in a few ways, not least letting the zombies talk.

Despite my better judgment, I was too intrigued for the moment by the sound of pure evil pleading its case. “Why haven’t the others spoken to me? Can you all talk?”
It opened its mouth wide, exposing gums full of squirming cilia and teeth that rolled and shifted position. “Not… all ssssame, like you-mans not sssame.”

The alien crawled on a bit farther. I don’t think it was trying to escape; it knew that was impossible. I began to worry that it was leading me toward something. Ahead of me was a greenish stone wall carved in bas relief with a hideous, demonic face. Somehow, I doubted that was an original furnishing in the Phobos base of the Union Aerospace Corporation.

“How aren’t we the same?” I prodded. I felt in my gut that I was on the verge of something important.

“Ssssome… fear,” it gasped. Its face showed no sign of distress, but I knew from the shudder that wracked its body that it was very near death. “Othersss sssstrong…. you ssstrong.”
Good Lord—was this alien thing admitting a grudging respect for Fly Taggart?

That’s right. Fly really can talk to the monsters. And if you were paying attention, you’ll have spotted something else there - the word ‘alien’. Yes, in the Doom novels, the monsters are really aliens simply dressing up as demons for a psychological advantage, as well as decorating purely with an eye to the theatrical.

Maybe the demons - the aliens - were confused by Hollywood into thinking the swastika is a satanic symbol. It sure seems suspiciously like somebody had an official list of Things that Scare Westerners… like they knew it would be seen by UAC workers and Marines, not by Native American Indians or Japanese. Wonder if they’d change the symbols for different humans, say using the letters kyo or oni if they were invading the Nippon Electric space station?

This goes on for about a third of the book, Fly just trying to make it through Phobos and following marks left down by Arlene, in an open nod to Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. The writing is about what you’d expect, but to give the book credit it does try to use actual levels as the setting - most notably when His Truly stumbles into Phobos Anomaly, fights the two Barons of Hell (just called “Hell Princes” here) and climbs a conveniently appearing set of stairs to the Gate leading to Deimos.

And then… whoooooooooooo! Let the true craziness commence!

You are here. And about to be very confused.

It kicks off when Fly discovers that Gate travel rips away everything, including clothes, leading to, well, an awkward reunion with Arlene where both of them spend much of the time trying not to perv, him somewhat more successfully. Or at least, so he claims. This book (unlike the later ones) being written entirely from his POV, it might not have been his military training making him stand to attention.

Staring me up and down, she commented, “Nice fashion statement.” I’d forgotten I was buck naked. My damned reflexes insisted on embarrassing me, and I reflexively covered myself. Well, I guess it was one more proof I was still fully human. I doubt that zombies are modest.

“Turn your back, for Christ’s sake,” I implored.

“I will not” she answered, eyes roving where they shouldn’t. “You’re the first decent thing I’ve seen since this creep show began.”

Field stripping a couple of nearby corpses, literally, the two get dressed and continue the adventure, only now ripping the piss out of it. On a meta level, it’s actually kindof appropriate. The mood of a game always changes dramatically when you have a co-op partner, after all.

Sometimes I suspected she liked toying with me. I pointed at the brown carcass of a spiny. “So if you don’t want me calling it a demon,” I said, “how about a spiny?”

“How about an imp?”

“An imp?”

“Why not? I had a book of fairy tales when I was a kid with goblins and things. The picture closest to this critter had the caption ‘imp.’ It was playing with magical fire.”

Our game was becoming fun. We didn’t have a lot of entertainment at the moment. “I dunno,” I said. “Some- thing about the head reminds me of an old monster movie about a fish-guy who lived in a lagoon.”

“He’s an imp,” she insisted, reminding me that tough Marine or not, she was still a woman.

My mother didn’t raise any fools. “He’s an imp,” I agreed.

And here’s how they come to call the Cacodemon something… a little less impressive… after killing one.

“Oo-rah!” exulted Arlene. “Smashing pumpkins into small pieces of putrid debris! What the hell was that?”

“Um. I was going to ask you the same question.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the disgusting, deflated remains. We should have been expecting brand new monsters, but this floating beach-ball thing was so weird, it meant anything was possible. That scared the hell out of me. It meant we might run into something indestructible, or at least unkillable.

“What, ah, do you want to call this one?” Arlene asked.

I’d forgotten our little game. It was a good question, but my mind was blank.

“Call it a pumpkin,” I suggested at last.

Arlene wasn’t impressed. She wrinkled her nose as if smelling limburger cheese. “I didn’t mean that as a serious name, Fly. We need something more… frightening.”

And Lost Souls?

“Flying skulls. What should we call those?”

“Flying skulls.”

“Right. What do you want to call them?”

“Flying skulls, you lamebrain! Call ‘em as you see ‘em.”

Suffice it to say that the horror struggles against this. At one point Fly and Arlene even consider roasting marshmallows on the hellfire, which has to be a new low for both demons and aliens to share.

“Will you look at that?” said Arlene, pointing at red-orange curtains of fire crackling beyond the high walls, at a sufficient distance that we weren’t roasting.
“Now that’s bad taste,” I said. “Next they’ll have Lieutenant Weems in a red devil suit pop out of a cake.”

Arlene found a switch that opened a hidden room; we went with the flow. Entering the chamber, we marveled at how different it was from what we’d seen before. The entire room was constructed of that black, oily, ulcerating wood. There was one object in the room, placed at dead center: a bas relief of a demonic monster more horrible, or more ridiculous, than any we’d fought. Every physical attribute of the thing was exaggerated so that it almost seemed to be a cartoon. The largest protuberance of all was its penis, sticking out at a 45-degree angle.

“They’ve got to be kidding,” said Arlene.

“I hate to bring it up, but that’s probably another switch,” I suggested.

“I’ve handled worse,” she admitted.

The rest of the book continues in a similar vein, with the two meeting up with a couple more survivors and discovering that the aliens have already launched their invasion of Earth - no word on whether or not they took time out to kill that poor little bunny rabbit. It’s actually a fun, goofy, knowingly dumb run-through of the original Doom that accepts there is no way to make a good book out of it, but at least has a little fun in the process. It’s not its fault it was belatedly upstaged by the most awesome promotional comic ever.

It’s still a more involving story than Daikatana’s…

But like I said, there are four books of this, and the remaining three make the first one look sane. The second, Hell on Earth, is supposedly for Doom 2 what the first was for the original, but that lasts about half a page before both characters start randomly hallucinating aliens. Arlene, the demonic kind. Fly…

I had to explain this to Arlene, but she was asleep again so I explained it to the Martian instead. He was a little green guy, about three feet high, and I was glad to see him.

“About time one of you showed up,” I said. “We always expected to see guys like you up here instead of all this medieval stuff.”

“Perfectly understandable,” he said in the voice of W. C. Fields. “These demons are a pain. But they’re welcome to Deimos.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Confidentially, it’s an ugly moon, don’t you think? Not at all a work of beauty like Phobos, a drinking man’s moon. Speaking of which, you wouldn’t have some whiskey on you?”

“Sorry, only water.”

He was very offended. “You mean that liquid fish fornicate in? We Martians don’t care for the stuff. You can drown in it, you know. Now ours is a nice, dry planet, rusty brown like that car of yours after you abandoned it to the elements. Mars is nice and cold, good practice for the grave. Are you sure you don’t have any booze?”

They’re not however hallucinating when the rocket they’ve commandeered to return to Earth crashes in Utah, for the discovery that the Mormons are leading a guerrilla war against the alien invaders. This does not go down too well with Arlene, whose brother was a member, who makes it clear that while she’s happy to work with them, she’s not in the mood to get religion involved with this ‘demon’ invasion. Fly doesn’t care, having been brought up Catholic, though he does muse about the time he was a tourist in LA.

“[I went into the] big temple at the end of Overland Avenue. There’s an angel up top with a trumpet; I mistakenly called him Gabriel.”

“They must have loved that; it’s the Angel Moroni.”

“Well, now I know.”

“Heh. I used to drop the i off that name when I used it.”

I took a deep breath. “Arlene, I’m going to hold you to that promise not to talk theology with them.”

“Scout’s honor,” she said.

“Were you ever a Scout?”

She didn’t answer again.

And indeed, it takes two seconds to break it…

“You wouldn’t happen to be in league with those ministers of Satan invading our world?”

“We were wondering the same thing about you,” said Arlene. I gave her a dirty look for that.

This whole side of the story is very strange, with Arlene ultimately falling for a guy despite his religion and both her and Fly displaying a, uh, unusually wide knowledge of the details for two non-believers. Their President is a bit of a jerk, their soldiers talk about Fly and Arlene as “unbelievers”, but at the same time others don’t seem to care, while at other times the invasion is held up as having been prophecised. It’s an odd read. I don’t know if either of the authors is a Mormon themselves, but it does at times read a bit like an author tract that was stopped half way through with a “No, that’s not fair.” It’s perfectly balanced to really annoy both sides, but ham-fistedly written to repeatedly slow the narrative down for much of the rest of the series with religious mutterings that have nothing of note to do with anything.

It’s especially strange, since it feels like the only reason to change the demons into aliens was to remove a potentially controversial element of the ‘story’, only to double-down on it here.

I hope they gave up going door to door before Elder Redshirt met his untimely end.

The Mormons are however pretty much the good guys here, with the corrupt government… most of it… soon looking to squash the Mormon resistance by dispatching the Army, FBI, ATF, and the IRS to… yes, as in “Internal Revenue Service”. Not only were they the first to bail on humanity, they have a “Special Revenue Collection Division” consisting of… I quote… “an infantry division, two armored cav regiments, a hidden fast-attack submarine, a heavy bomber wing, and from what I hear, a carrier battle group.”

(So this is what they mean by “A tax is the best form of defence…”)

Say, remember when this was a game about shooting demons in space?

Soon enough Fly and Arlene are travelling with her future beau and a teenage girl called Jill on a mission of… it doesn’t matter even a little, though the latter does lead to easily the book’s creepiest moment. And it has nothing to do with the zombies or ‘steam demons’ or any of the other expected stuff. Mr. Flynn.

The cyberdude was the same as before, still a young black man turned into a computer-age pin cushion. Earlier, we removed enough bandages to see his face. We uncovered his head and saw it was completely shaved, the smooth dome covered in little metal knobs and dials. As Albert and Arlene continued unwrapping, Jill took a step back. The man wasn’t wearing anything but the quickly unwinding bandages. As they started unwrapping below the waist, our fourteen-year-old hellion got embarrassed. Oceans of gore she could take without batting an eyelash, but a nude young man was enough to make her blush. I was deeply amused and grateful I woke up in time for the entertainment - Jill’s reaction, I mean, not the guy. The more nonchalant she tried to be, the more fun I had watching.

...

Moving swiftly on.

Oddly, THIS bit of Doom 2 went entirely unchronicled. Probably they forgot.

The book finally ends as the team fight their way to Los Angeles to take down an enemy installation in an old Disney building that controls a shield, and take some information to some friends of the resistance in Hawaii. The details absolutely could not matter a little bit though, because the third volume, Infernal Sky, quickly gives up any pretence of being anything to do with Doom. For starters, we finally get a name for the invading aliens. The conquering force that tore apart Phobos and Deimos.

The masterminds behind the zombification of Earth.

The masters of space who dared don Hell’s own garments for war.

The name of ultimate evil…

Fred.

I am not making this up. The aliens are now officially called the “Freds”. From “Fredworld”. It’s a nickname rather than what they call themselves, but still, Fred. Knee Deep In The Fred. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? And it turns out that space is a rather busier place than anyone has realised, with a whole damn alien convention taking place on the other side of Pluto. Amongst them are representatives of the Klave, a friendly species which lives in two bodies at once, whose Earth ambassadors end up taking the names Sears and Roebuck. Physically, they’re described as being like a mix of Magilla Gorilla and Alley Oop.

So, yeah… I just checked the Insanometer. At this point, that’s hardly worth a blip. Even so, while Harry Dresden could totally get away with this, Flynn Taggart is not Harry Dresden. Though by god if he was, you just know this would end with him fighting Satan on the back of a reanimated T-Rex, and now I’m suddenly sad that we don’t get to see that.

Damn it. Damn it to he- Uh. To Fredworld...

But anyway. Most importantly, we get to find out exactly what the invasion was about - what an invasion that canonically took centuries to prepare and led to the deaths of billions and billions and forever changed the fate of humanity was launched in the name of.

Literary. Goddamn. Criticism.

Albert clapped like a little kid who’d just been given the present he always wanted—understanding. “The two sides are literary critics, conquering stellar systems to promote their own school of criticism. I love it. It’s too insane not to love. What is their primary disagreement over the twelve-million-year-old books?”
S&R gave us one of their best sentences: “The Freds want to take the books apart.”
Arlene screamed, but it was a happy kind of scream. “Oh, my God,” she said, “they’re deconstructionists!”

Yes, the entire galaxy is split between two factions, Hyperrealists and Deconstructionists, feuding over texts left behind by a precursor race, and the attack on Earth was merely one part of what the books call… no. If I simply said it, you’d think I was making it up.

I handed (the book) to her. The title was: The Deconstructionists’ New Clothes, Being the Oh-So-Secret History of the Galaxy’s Most Stupidest War. The author was Jill Lovelace, PhD, LLD, CIA, MAD. It was a short story, but we both realized what it really was. Somehow, Jill had managed to pry out of someone, maybe the Klave - Sears and Roebuck’s uncles? - the whole freaking mystery that we never could get… what the damned war was all about! Yeah, right, the Six Million Year War that resulted, eventually, in a strategic chess move by the Freds, of House Deconstructionists, to invade Earth and kill us by the millions. The war that had started the whole thing.

I’m not going to quote the whole story. It was long and pretty damned good, and I don’t want Jill’s electrifying prose to make my own look lamer than it already does. So I’ll paraphrase the intel instead. Of all the secrets Arlene and I had faced since we first found ourselves under attack by space demons, that was the most frustrating, the most galling… or to Arlene, the outright funniest: that a war could erupt and be prosecuted for six million years between two competing schools of literary criticism!

This is still a book about Doom, right? Doom? The game with the rocket launcher and the BFG 9000 and “To win the game you must kill me, John Romero” at the end? Tom Hall infamously wanted it to have more story, but I think even he’d draw the line around here.

These guys got off by critiquing twelve-million-year-old books and fighting over which important commentator correctly interpreted them! Jeez, I wondered how many alien races had been exterminated because of a bad review? At times the struggle had erupted into full-scale warfare.

The Freds had sent hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of their demonic monsters to clean humanity’s clock. Simple human pride made me feel for the first - and I hoped the last - time that the Freds were a worthy foe. They must be scared of us. The deconstructionists thought we might deconstruct them. The hyperrealists were busy with their own shit.

A couple of reasons are given why Earth is so important, mostly that it’s the only place in the universe with religion and actual death, but at this point it’s hard to keep track of the insanity - like the introduction of another race called the Newbies, again, yes really, who are allergic to faith. Everyone else in the universe can simply leave their bodies unless completely destroyed and find themselves another one, after sitting around in a slightly fancy waiting room until a body becomes available. The sheer headache though is one that no amount of aspirin can handle, with most of what follows just a blur until Fly and Arlene use a Gate to board a Fred ship and, stark naked but by now too used to it to give a damn, murder a whole army of them in about five seconds flat.

S&R had never come right out and said it, but the Freds were more like humans than the Klave in one important respect—they too were individualists. This was carried to a lunatic extreme in the lack of cooperation among the demonic invaders. I’d lost count of how many times Arlene and I had saved ourselves by tricking the monsters into fighting each other. In a choice between slaughtering humans and trashing each other, hell-princes and pumpkins opted for the latter every time.

Oh, no, no, no, sweetie. No. No. Don’t start pretending this is still anything to do with Doom.

!OREMOR NHOJ EM LLIK TSUM UOY KOOB EHT DNATSREDNU OT

Unfortunately for Fly and Arlene, the last thing the Freds do before expiring is to set their ship on a one-way trip to their home world, which will take a couple of months by their time, but hundreds of years by the rest of the galaxy’s. A bit like in Gunbuster, only with slightly less fanservice.

I picked the captain up and sat him in the co-pilot’s chair. Poetic justice; he had died bravely ... let him see where he was going. Now I stood directly in front of the bastard so his dead eyes could drink me in.

“God, I wish I could repair your wounds and bring you back to life,” I said, “so I could kill you all over again and again and again, and repeat the process until you told me how to turn this piece-of-crap ship around. But I promise you I’ll obliterate your brain before I’ll let you be recaptured and revived by your Fred buddies.”

What they find though is that Fredworld is really more of a dead world; as well as the former home of a truly imbecilic alien race whose theatrical style is explained as it having taken two hundred years to scout out Earth, a hundred years to build an invasion force and then two hundred years to head back, not realising that humanity was no longer in the middle ages and now had things like ‘plasma guns’ and no particular fear of devils. And, in doing so, that other race, the Newbies, who have an accelerated evolution… whatever that means… seized the advantage and attacked them with a blistering, all-destroying surprise attack that left no survivors.

So, basically, the invasion ends because someone else killed them all, off-screen. Yeah.

Not the most satisfying ending to that arc, it must be said. Still, that’s just a couple of chapters into the book, which involves humanity having recovered from the Fred invasion and now in space themselves, Fly and Arlene’s copied souls being put into the Matrix to re-live a simulation of the Fred invasion, and ultimately defeating the Newbies for their own dickish behaviour by evolving their whole species into nothingness, and the real duo returning to Earth for the story not to so much end as finally lose interest in itself, drop the mic, and walk off.

And so was Daisy the rabbit once again unavenged.

Doom is one of the most amazing bad reads ever to make the jump from screen to page, not least because there’s no way that anything like them could ever be written again. There are many bad novelisations and novels that miss the point, but the idea of just throwing someone the license and then very clearly leaving them to do whatever the hell they want, or indeed, swap hell for Fredworld if they choose, isn’t ever going to happen in this era of multimillion dollar budgets and dedicated marketing departments and people saying words like ‘brand integrity’ without even slightly regretting what happened to their lives.

Sure, there’s scope for other stupidity, but this flavour? This was a one-off, that could only have happened at a time when games were big enough to be known quantities worth shitting out merchandise for, but not big enough for anyone to care about the details.

The result is nothing short of a literary rollercoaster, to be read with a constant raised eyebrow and a facial expression that you can normally only get by having an enemy sneak a bag of prawns into a wall cavity and leave them for a couple of months. They’re truly, truly terrible books and as SF, nothing short of throwing bad ideas against the wall and picking up what doesn’t stick, but they are at least memorable. That’s more than you can say for most novels, even if it’s lucky that both authors already had established careers before putting their names on the contract, never mind the final books. When Doom 3 came out, a whole new series of Doom novels began, but I haven’t read them. They’re probably better written, but I can’t imagine they could possibly be any more outlandish, crazier, or more enjoyably awful than these classics.

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