Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Dig

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by Alan Dean Foster

I loved the game which inspired this novel. The Dig was a popular game back when there were no fuss about GPU or any high tech computing power; it was just plain old mind teasing puzzle game. You use your brain to the best of your ability to work through the story while enjoying exploring new areas revealed in the game as a reward of solving tough puzzles. Although the game was tough and I only managed to complete it with the aid of walkthroughs, I was still superbly satisfied with the story. I was not aware that there was a novel that depicted the game, until I accidentally found this book in a used book store.

The Story

When an asteroid suddenly appeared in Earth's orbit, defying all natural laws and without anyone seeing it coming, a doomsday scenario appeared in everyone's mind. Instead of crashing directly into Earth, the asteroid remarkably swing into orbit around Earth, but it was a decaying orbit which could cause it to crash down any moment. Quick action was required and the only course of action from calculations was to ignite 2 nuclear bombs on the asteroid to kick it into a stable orbit. For such a delicate mission, Boston Low was the first choice although a reluctant one.

Boston Low had been a national hero for managing to land a space shuttle even when it was very evident that it will crash due to a mistake-filled mission. He had chose to retire from all the action to lead a peaceful life alone but was forced to lead this mission since there were no better choice. Adding to his frustration was the fact that he needed to bring along scientific genius Ludger Brink and famous telereporter Maggie Robbins.

The mission proceeded succesfully, but when they went to investigate the explosion site on the asteroid, they were surprised to found non-natural artifacts as well as unexplainable phenomena, which can only point to the evidence of extraterresterial intelligence. They dug further to investigate, but inadvertenly triggered a mechanism which transported them to a new planet. One of the reason why it was titled 'The Dig' was that the story was triggered due to the act of them digging into the explosion site to explore further, hence triggering the asteroid's mechanism, which turned out to be a spaceship in disguise.

The Dig

With 3 Earthlings now marooned in a barren and haunted new world in The Dig, the adventure had only begun with them looking for items to survive and for a way back home. The titular act of digging had a lot to do with the story - they managed to access the abandoned alien civilization's structures only by digging through the ground, and even then lost one of their numbers immediately.

In itself, the whole story of The Dig is not unlike what archaeologists did even though this is a space adventure. Archaeologists work with ancient civilization with little or no knowledge of how the latter's world worked, so they have to rely on guesswork and clues to understand the behavior and life of that civilization. On the other hand, archaeologists can work on mummified ancients for centuries while to the 3 protagonists, they had to work through within days to secure their survival and way home by analyzing the alien civilization's abandoned structures and technologies, with little or no clue what they were facing.

The People

The Dig may not have a long list of dramatis personae, which I am grateful for. Boston Low was the ultimate storybook heroic protagonist - a leader, thinking ahead of everyone and pondering visible dangers and invisible threats alike. With Maggie Robbins as the sole female protagonist, a romance between Boston and her was inevitable, although I had no idea how on Earth the author managed to pull it through. The telereporter was brave and intelligent, and it was through her that the protagonists managed to understand the language of the aliens. Ludger Brink was the scientific genius of the story, but so was Boston Low, so he worked more like a supporting character for the story than an important protagonist, although the whole story did revolve around him since he was the reason the whole story kicked off, both on the asteroid by suggesting the dig and on the planet when he was addicted to life-giving crystals.

An additional cast in The Dig was the Cocytans, original inhabitants of the abandoned planet Cocytus, named so by Brink when they landed due to its resembling the ninth circle of hell as depicted in Dante's Inferno. The aliens existed only in ethereal form, unable to interact with the physical world except in small bursts of energy play, dismissed all the time by the protagonists as random electrical discharges. Although they only appear at the end of the game, their role had been improved in the novel. The Cocytans' thoughts provided an additional vantage point to the story, adding an air of mystery to the novel since the puzzles of the game had not been included for practical reasons.

The Cocytans' civilization is an interesting one - it tells of how an advanced civilization forego their physical bodies to become immortal, only to realize too late that they had forsaken that which matters the most to them. This is not unlike what we envision our civilization will become one day, with everyone hooked up to the high-speed world of technology and chasing for tangible pleasures only to realize too late that our health and welfare is deteriorating. The other interesting thing about the Cocytans is the way they viewed the 3 protagonists of The Dig. They looked the Earthlings as technologically inferior, which I believed was how the Europeans viewed the Native Americans and Incans, underestimating the latter's achievement.

The Game

Even though I had finished the game well before I had read this novel, the novel still proved to be a fresh view of the story that is The Dig. The game thrived on puzzle solving, which obviously the novel could not duplicate, so it provided its own narrative and explored some other elements that is not within the game, such as creating the Cocytans' thoughts and points of view to invoke an air of mystery on what really happened to the Cocytans.

For one such as myself who had played the game, imagining most of the scenarios were quite easy but it may be a little difficult to envision how the environment looked like for one who had not touched the game. What the novel could not invoke was the sense of awe which the game did when new locales were revealed, but that is hardly of blame since the game had visual gadgets to help convey the scene whereas Foster had only words to describe the environment. I have copied some of the screenshots found online to help show how the game looked like to the player and hoped that this will convey the sense of awe which I felt when I played the game.

All in all, a wonderful read and a great one for those who were a fan of The Dig such as myself. A recent dig of my own though the internet revealed a fan site dedicated to this ancient game and is quite informative, interested parties could click this link to learn more about this wonderful adventure game through space: The Dig Museum


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