You are cold and hungry. Your pockets are filled to the brim with glowing Artifacts; the coveted treasures of the Zone. As you run through the abandoned factory for the 100th time, you provoke a sneer of contempt from a familiar foe.
"Get out of here, stalker!" chides the burly guard on the catwalk above. It is his eternal refrain, regardless of whether you're entering or leaving.
For anyone who has played the cult hit S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, this is a very familiar scene. It became one of the few moments we could all look back and laugh at in an otherwise quite serious and grim rumination on social decay, governmental duplicity, and the dark side of human nature. Perhaps in some way, those little moments of absurdity (intended or not) helped to give the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe a staying power that attracted a characteristically large amount of modders, video producers, cosplayers, and fanfic writers.
A number of tie-in novels were licensed, most of them in German and Russian. For us anglophones, only two novels were released: "Southern Comfort" and its sequel "Northern Passage." Authored by Balázs Pataki, a Hungarian writer, the books bring us to the dusty, war-torn mountains of Afghanistan rather than Ukraine. In the fictional timeline, the city of Kabul has recently been devastated by a nuclear attack orchestrated by the Taliban.
...Yeah, you got that right. They attacked their own country. (We never really get much of an idea as to what the logic of this event was. Did the Taliban fighters forget to move the bomb to America before they blew it up? Was it just some sort of masochistic thing? I guess we're not supposed to think much about this.)
The book lets us know that as soon as the U.S. military condemns this act of profound savagery, the dastardly ACLU condemns the military for being "culturally insensitive" in their statement. If you're confused as to why a civil-rights litigation group with funding from the Koch brothers would take deep offense at criticism of a brutal terrorist attack, you're not alone.
Much like the famous "get out of here, stalker" meme, I initially dismissed this as an isolated instance of pants-on-head goofiness. Later on, when the protagonist is captured by a band of U.S. Marine Corps renegades calling themselves the Tribe, the book begins to truly descend into the putrid depths of paranoid wingnut fever dreams. Despite the Tribe's extensive and enthusiastic use of child soldiers, public stoning, and total warfare, they aren't the bad guys. In fact, the evil vast Journalist Conspiracy (tm) had tried to frame them for a massacre! Bastards, I bet they were funded by Jane Fonda and the gay reptilian overlords of France!
...again though, the whole "using child soldiers and killing people in cold blood" thing is never denied. Nor is it really questioned, as the creepy-ass colonel in charge is given plenty and plenty of paragraphs to whine about how America is evil for not letting him be a violent, despicable psychopath, er, fight the war "the right way." Soon the protagonist reveals himself as a weak-willed dipshit who thinks these nincompoops deserve some sort of special "respect" for their selective nihilism.
If you still have any scrap of interest in the story after this study in How to Suck at Writing Anti-Heroes, you get treated to a convoluted, mediocre ending that incorporates all the familiar plot twists of double-dealing governmental agents and intrigue. Oh, and the protagonist squares off with a crazed, racist bunghole with absurdly homicidal tendencies. (Despite this description, he's not from the Tribe, though. It's clear by now that they have received the approval of the author. Free character shields for all neofascist lunatics!)
It gets even worse in the sequel, Northern Passage. The Tribe accompanies the protagonist on a trip to a ridiculously violent Los Angeles to retrieve the junkie son of their colonel. (Just go with it.) The reader is treated to a long series of blubbering, ignorant whines about the supposedly horrid state of affairs in America. This culminates in a phenomenally stupid argument the Marines get into with a drive-in fast food restaurant employee about entitlement culture and affirmative action.
I'm not making this shit up.
I couldn't continue much longer after that. I held onto my morbid fascination just long enough to learn that the Tribe was apparently powerful enough to have a global network that recruited people based on hotheaded Youtube comments. Oh, and they also have multiple functioning nuclear silos because fuck you.
So there you have it. A story that started out as a fairly decent Stalker tie-in, only to eventually degenerate to the point where it resembled a dream one might have after a night populated by far too much cheese, weed, and wretched Call of Duty fanfiction. Perhaps I'll finish it later, but I think I'll need a few Spaten Optimators first.
Speaking of which, if you're interested in a drinking game while reading this book, I'd advise the following:
1. Take a shot every time someone says "raghead"
2. Take two shots every time a Tribe member acts in a way that resembles the worst stereotypes about the USMC
3. Chug a beer every time the characters rattle off facts and figures about modern firearms without it contributing to the story
4. Take a shot of Everclear every time a Tribe member goes on a self-righteous, hypocritical tirade against the American government
5. Take a sip of beer every time a Taliban zombie gets killed
6. Take a sip of non-alcoholic beer every time a Tribe member acts in a way that insults the intelligence of Americans on either side of the political spectrum
Be sure to have at least one friend around with proven emergency medical expertise, though. You'll need it.