Fiction Reviews


Bioshock: Rapture

(2011), John Shirley, Titan Books, £7.99, pbk, pp470, ISBN 978-1-848-56704-7

 

This is designed as a prequel for the first two video games in the Bioshock series. The third game in the series Bioshock Infiniteis due out this year but takes place in a different time and location. The novel is about the backstory of the city of Rapture, built underwater in the Atlantic Ocean, by Andrew Ryan in the late 1940ís. The reason for Ryan to devote his fortune to this, is to create an environment, free for government and religious interference, where the free market, will enable people to reach their full potential. By the time the game starts, in 1960, things have gone very wrong in Rapture. This novel is designed to lead into the first game.

Fanboy cards on the table, I love the first two Bioshock games, the set-up, the environment, the twists. So I am not coming to this setting for the first time.

One of the main characters in the novel is Bill McDonagh, selected by Ryan as his building engineer, also acting as his sounding board on occasion. The first third of the novel follows Ryan, McDonagh and Frank Fountaine, the main antagonist, as the city is created. The attempt to build up Frank Fountaine, before he gets into the city, as a master of false identities is debatable in whether it was needed. It could be argued that he could just be a minor criminal who gets lucky with a chance for expansion into smuggling and genetic manipulation. That would be more in keeping with the irony of people fulfilling their potential in new environment.

The second part deals with the society in the city becoming established and the problems with unregulated markets and feelings of claustrophobia beginning to emerge. It sees the emergence of ADAM, a substance derived from a sea slug that can cause genetic rewriting and people to obtain powers from an energiser called EVE and plasmids that give them different abilities. Fountaine founds a company to market this to the population of Rapture. The last half deals with the civil war between Fountaine and Ryan, that devastates the city and introduces the symbols of the game, the Big Daddies and the Little Sisters.

The difficulty is that you feel that the narrative has to be rushed. The information of how people have become like this and why they are doing this gets rushed. A few times, the text is just repeating the character audio dairies given in the game. There are some disturbing passages on the effects of ADAM and the narrative creates a feel of claustrophobia. But there is a sense that so many characters have to be name-checked, that the story is in danger of losing focus.

There is also the problem of the plots and sub-plots being raised and left unfinished by the end of the novel, because they are covered when you play the game through. Still the novel does manage to complete the story of Bill McDonagh.

The impression that I was left with, was with having to reference so much of the game's dialogue and flashbacks, the novel never feels as if it lives up to the potential that it has. It is in the moments when you hear the story of Rapture from the bystanders, rather than the game leads, that the book is at its strongest. It is enjoyable if you are a fan of the games, but people who have not played might be left a bit unsatisfied by it.

David Allkins


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