World War II was one of the darkest times in human history. Science made great advancements during the war, at the cost of throwing ethics and human rights out the window. One of the most prominent human experimentation groups during this time was Unit 731 of the Japanese Army, and they were responsible for some of the most sickening war crimes every carried out by any nation. The thousands of people experimented upon mainly included Chinese, Russian and Korean persons, although other groups of victims included Pacific Islanders and Allied POWs. Unit 731’s experiments included removing limbs and reattaching them at different parts of the body or even attaching the severed limbs to different people. Victims were exposed to chemical weapons, biological agents, explosives and many other methods of death to witness the effects on the human body. After WWII ended, Unit 731 was not tried for their crimes; instead, they were granted immunity in exchange for the data from their experiments. Island 731 is a story based on a simple but horrifying premise: What if the experiments never stopped?
The book follows a scientific team studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, who ends up near an uncharted island with a non-functioning boat after a large storm. When one of the team members goes missing, the others begin to search the island and quickly discover that many of its inhabitants are not natural. The premise makes it seem like Island 731 will be a sci-fi story, something akin to The Island of Dr. Moreau, but it turned out to be more of an action-horror survival book. The story is fast-paced once the characters make it to the island and the characters are fairly likable. However, given that this is more of a horror story than anything else, do not expect the characters to act believably. The main character, Mark Hawkins, is somewhere between Chuck Norris and Rambo, but none of the characters are freaking out about all this crazy stuff. If normal folks washed up on an island where there were literal monsters, they would be pretty prone to panicking. And frankly, most of the characters who were not Hawkins were fairly uninteresting.
My copy of this book has a comment from a Publishers Weekly review on the front that states, “One of the best Jurassic Park successors.” This statement is mostly false. Island 731 does not delve into the science of what is happening like Crichton’s work does. The explanation Robinson gives is basically: “What’s happening? Monsters. Why? Science!” This book’s science fiction is definitely more fiction than science. Overall this book is kind of like Jurassic Park, but if Jurassic Park had been a Syfy Original Movie instead of a big-name Hollywood production/book written by Michael Crichton.
This book does tie in with Robinson’s Kaiju novels. Island 731 reads like a standalone novel, and maybe that is what Robinson originally intended for it. There were some issues with the book, like characters randomly knowing really important facts directly related to this one-of-a-kind situation they are stuck in, but that is just one more way that this is like a Syfy Original. Island 731 is not the way to go if great literature is your thing, but if you are a fan of cheesy sci-fi you should find this one to be enjoyable. The book was better than Project Nemesis, but not significantly so. Maybe the events of this book will be a bit more important down the line in Project Maigo or one of Robinson’s other Kaiju books.