Should I Buy? – Bioshock: Rapture

I’m not talking about a videogame today. Instead, I’m talking about a videogame tie-in novel because quite honestly, it’s how I’ve been spending my time. Just a warning, if you’ve yet to play Bioshock, you may want to skip this post as both it and the book will contain spoilers. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum here though.

Bioshock: Rapture is a prequel novel to the first two games and concerns itself with telling the story of the creation, rise and fall of Rapture. Not having read very many ‘expanded universe’ novels before, I’m unsure exactly what purpose these books are meant to serve. I’ve decided that in Rapture‘s case it’s to connect all the dots and give a bit more context to all those audio logs you found lying around.

It’s written by Bram Stoker Award winning John Shirley, and his previous novels include urban fantasy and cyberpunk so he’s at least got the pedigree for this sort of book. I think ultimately it’s too big in scope though. It’s trying to explore the different characters, tell the story of Rapture, set everything up for the first two games and be a big ensemble piece all at once. And while it certainly doesn’t miss a chance to include some winking reference or whole scene from the first game, its ability to do the others fluctuates.

The book clocks in at an impressive 470 pages which sounds fair when you consider the scope of the work but there’s some things Mr Shirley just can’t seem to stop himself from repeating. In a way, the book feels like the work of Ayn Rand interpreted through the style of Mario Puzo. It has Rand’s grandiose sensibility and philosophy mixed with Puzo’s pacing and ability to portray moral ambiguity and a decaying society.

It gets off to a wobbly start, trying to establish its three leads and spends too long getting into Rapture proper. When it does get there, it kind of plods along with establishing scenes that don’t really establish that much. It fails to really bring across the grandeur of Rapture’s glory days, or the general feel for the society.

This only really troubles the first third of the book though, things pick up once the cracks in Ryan’s vision start showing. This is also when the lead character Bill starts to come into his own, his working man’s perspective is both easier to identify with and allows the book to refrain from taking a side in the various conflicts.

That being said, Bill probably isn’t the viewpoint character even half the time. Shirley hands out scenes to minor characters like candy. It does mean that he gets to explore things Bill isn’t there for, some of which is very important, but it does mean the book lacks focus. And as a result, momentum is a rare commodity. Though I will say he does a terrific job with Sander Cohen. And once the book starts attacking Ryan’s beliefs and he stops just spouting his philosophy and instead has to defend it and his actions, he gets really interesting.

As the book goes on though, it finds firmer footing. Things get tighter, faster, heavier and we get to see the result of Shirley’s experience with cyberpunk. He does seem to forget about setting up Lamb’s plans after she takes over Persephone, but that’s probably for the best.

I know that anybody who reads or is seriously considering reading a videogame tie-in novel isn’t looking for mind-blowing literature. And Rapture is certainly a worthwhile read for Bioshock fans. Shirley was clearly fond of the source material and delivers a faithful story that just tries to do too much. Perhaps if it had been two books, or just about Rapture’s decline it would have worked better. As it stands, it’s worth your time if you’re a fan of the games.

NOTE: RRP is £7.99, prices may vary depending on store.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

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