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Book Review

Book Cover



Author: John Shirley
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84856 704 7
Available 19 July 2011

With the closing years of the Second World War Andrew Ryan dreams of building a society away from the madness of the atom bomb and the stifling rules of modern society. Turning his vast fortune to the dream he builds Rapture in the hope that its lack of constraints will bring a golden age to mankind. But power without responsibility only brings death and horror...

Bioshock: Rapture is the prequel novel to the two excellent Bioshock games, those paragons of intelligent game writing. The author, John Shirley, is no stranger to success either, having won the Bram Stoker Award for literature.

There is much to recommend the book, intelligently written it has taken the known story of the fall of Rapture to pen an intricately woven narrative, although, for me the book contains a central flaw, in the shape of Bill McDonagh.

Bill is the everyman, through which we witness the birth and fall of Rapture, an engineer turned plumber whose attitude to his work impresses Ryan enough to offer him a place in his undersea paradise. Given the depression he jumps at this chance of advancement, even if the price is his freedom, as no one is allowed to leave Rapture. So far so good, but why in God's name did Shirley decide that he should be the sort of cockney seen only in 1940’s films.

Every time he spoke I could hear Dick Van Dyke. It is probably because I grew up in London that this sort of lazy characterisation of eastenders annoys the t*ts off me, as nobody outside of film speaks like this. It doesn’t help that he has obviously lifted some of the more colourful colloquialisms from modern television. It was not until a decade ago that people started to say "innit" and to be honest it’s a word more associated with chav’s than it is anyone from the east end.

Deliberate or not the book stands as a pretty good damnation of far right political philosophy. Initially Ryan is naive if he thinks that a society can run anarchically only on free will, although because you cannot leave, free will in Rapture is more of an idea than a fact, as Ryan tries to control his new society. New technologies and ruthless men make sure that this experiment was bound to end badly.

For fans of the game, all the characters are there and with the breathing space that a novel affords, their backgrounds are expanded, but as Bill is such a central character, English readers might waiver somewhere between insulted and annoyed.


Charles Packer

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