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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley



Bioshock: Rapture on Goodreads.

A prequel to a video game. Oh boy. John Shirley’s Bioshock: Rapture made it on my shelf simply because the Bioshock video game was a stunningly immersive piece of work with a tight narrative and a surprising amount of philosophizing subtext. That you go into the video game after Rapture has already deteriorated (with strewn-about details that hint at the history that led to the chaos you see) was part of its appeal to me, and as much as I was interested in a book that told Rapture’s story, I was not free from apprehension that knowing the story couldn’t live up to the mystery. But I have to say that, for me, Shirley succeeds.

Much of the book follows Bill McDonough, a loveable everyman who gets pulled into the world of Rapture, and the villainous Frank Fontaine who bears a large part of the blame for Rapture’s fate. The story does check in with several other notables along the way: Andrew Ryan, Brigid Tannebaum, others. But keeping so much of it on two characters makes the inevitability of a prequel work in the book’s favor. If you know the Bioshock video game, you know how Shirley’s book has to end, and you know how it turns out for all the named characters. But the great thing is that, in most cases, the book doesn’t take us to these grisly details. Bioshock: Rapture is not the end of its story that leads to the next story, rather the book is the prologue before the first chapter of the game, and the book knows that.

Where I found less interest in the book were the scenes with Sofia Lamb, the antagonist from the second Bioshock game. Much as Bioshock 2 didn’t seem to mesh smoothly with the history established in the first Bioshock, Sofia Lamb also feels extraneous to the greater story, and in fact she does somewhat drop off the map (for a perfectly valid reason) relatively early on. But it establishes as good a reason as possible for what Sofia Lamb is all about in the Bioshock 2.

Perhaps the most important aspect for me that Shirley gets right is taking the philosophizing from both Bioshock games (objectivism and collectivism) and weaving them throughout the story. As I read the book, the narrative seemed to suggest that adhering too much to either philosophy was a danger—even before Fontaine does a great job of manipulating both sensibilities. I don’t know if Shirley meant for the book to have a side as to which philosophy is better, but I prefer the feeling that whatever statement was being made was up to me to figure out.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

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