After five years of weird science and weird wigginess, the last episode of Fringe aired in early 2013. The time had finally come for Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop to wave goodbye to Dr. Walter Bishop as he walked selflessly into an uncertain future.
But that wasn’t the end of Team Fringe. Author Christa Faust has written a trio of supplemental novels that allows fans to revisit their favorite cult TV show. The Zodiac Paradox is the first of these three novels to be published (the other two, The Burning Man and Sins of the Father, are already in the queue and will be released later this year).
The story starts off in 1969 with William Bell and Walter Bishop experimenting with “their latest psychotropic formula” on the shore of New York’s Reiden Lake. Fans of the show will recognize this location as ground zero for Fringe mythology. Over the years a lot of important stuff has occurred at Reiden Lake—most notably Walter Bishop’s abduction of his son from an alternate universe.
This adventure, however, takes place decades before the debut of the TV show. Bell and Bishop are simply young grad students merrily tripping on acid. Unfortunately, their hallucinogenic experiment opens a portal to a parallel universe and sucks a sociopathic murderer into our world. Oops! Unbeknownst to the scrambled eggheads, they’ve just given birth to the Zodiac Killer, the real-life serial killer who terrorized San Francisco during the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Bell and Bishop follow the killer to the Bay Area where they have their first Fringe Division-like undertaking. At some point they hook up with Nina Sharp and the building blocks for the ongoing Fringe universe are established.
Throughout the show’s five seasons, the screenwriters made it very clear that Bell and Bishop were two guys who were willing to pursue their ambitions without regard for consequences. But in this novel, the pair is younger and less callous. They’ve unwittingly lured “a radioactive alien from another universe” into our world and they are compelled to do what they can to clean up the mess they created.
Fans will get a kick out of seeing these beloved characters prance around San Francisco. They are all about 28 years old and in the process of defining themselves. As always, William Bell is a bit Spock-like, but he is far more benevolent than he was as the CEO of Massive Dynamic. Walter Bishop is described as a “bumbling hippie,” but he’s actually a smart cookie with a lust for life. And Nina Sharp is a feminist firebrand (she is, says the author, as calm as a chihuahua in a firecracker factory). The story contains lots of foreshadowing and subtext for Fringe fans to savor. And it provides reasonable context for Cortexiphan, a drug that plays a big part in future Fringe episodes.
As enjoyable as this first Fringe novel is, we had a teeny-tiny problem with the author’s interpretation of Walter Bishop. Even as a young man he is portrayed as forgetful, easily distracted, and maddeningly obtuse. In other words, he displays the same messy behavior in his youth as he does later in life. But is that right? We always assumed that crazy ol’ Walter Bishop suffered these idiosyncrasies as a result of brain surgery and an extended stay in a mental institute. It was our impression that he was more functional (and cocky?) before the ravages of time took its toll. We’ll be interested to see how other characters, especially Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop, fare in upcoming sequels.
[Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox / By Christa Faust / First Printing: May 2013 / ISBN: 9781781163092]