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James Byron Huggins

ISBN 0-684-84461-3

Simon and Schuster

US Hardcover First Edition

428 pages; $25.00

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 1999


Horror, Science Fiction

Writing for the movies is a tricky business. What works in prose may seem stilted on the screen. The reverse is also true. What kicks ass on screen may seem hokey and contrived in a novel. In 'Hunter', James Byron Huggins offers up a novel designed to become the next Sylvester Stallone movie, a sort of 'Predator' set in the wilds of Alaska. But unlike 'Predator', 'Hunter' offers up both a hero and a monster that are unstoppable killing machines. In prose, the meeting of two perfect forces of nature comes off as a yawn not a yahoo.

Hunter is the ultimate tracker, the world's best man in the wilderness. He can survive for days with just a knife, he can talk to his enormous pet wolf, he can follow spoor that even the most advanced technology cannot detect. He lives like a mountain man, coming and going as he pleases. He's also a multi-millionaire with houses scattered around the world, the inventor of several important patented medicines, and a philanthropist who supports an institute for the study of cryptozoology. So, he's the perfect choice to track the latest genetic experiment that's gone wild. This creature, part human, part "something else", has become an unstoppable killing machine. It has no conscience, and unfortunately, no character. 'Hunter' rapidly becomes a case of the irresistible force meets the unmovable object.

The problem here is the perfection of the two combatants. Unfortunately, it renders them uninteresting and even trite. This is especially true of the monster, which is a greatly wasted opportunity. Here we have a creature which was once human, but there are no regrets, no poignant looking back at what might have been. There's only kill, kill, kill. You know there are only two types of movies -- those with explosions and those without explosions. This novel -- and presumably the movie to come -- are definitely of the former type. Unfortunately those explosions come a little late. It takes the humans far too long to figure out that (to quote Frank Zappa in 'Cheepnis') "bullets can't stop it."

In spite of all of the problems here, Huggins can clearly write a scene of action well. He does an impressive amount of research on tracking, life in the Alaskan wilderness, even some genetic manipulation. His CIA operatives are sympathetic and believable. But, by making his protagonist and antagonist so perfect he's created little more than cardboard cutouts. There are too many final battles, and too many shootouts with ineffectual weaponry. 'Hunter' may make a fine movie, but as a novel there's too much perfection for it to be really interesting.