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Thursday, July 21, 2011


2007's BioShock is on my short list of all time greatest video games ever. Okay, scratch that: BioShock is not a "video game" at all. It is an entirely new style of storytelling narrative. BioShock is high-brow literature all its own. And like the very best of books, you come away from it more enlightened and driven to ponder than you were before you encountered it. In the mind of Chris Knight, BioShock stands on the same level as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Seriously.

And like those and other classic novels, BioShock is something that many people finish with many different perspectives to wrestle over. My own personal take is that BioShock... and with a theme that continued into its sequel BioShock 2... is a morality tale about what man invariably becomes in the complete and conscious absence of God. Andrew Ryan's sub-Atlantic metropolis of Rapture was meant to be a Utopia where individual capability would be unfettered from the binds of government, religion and "petty morality". Instead it became a fallen ruin: an ultimate monument to man's corrupted nature.

We already knew about the city of Rapture from playing BioShock and BioShock 2. But we never got the full story of how Andrew Ryan built his underwater society... and how it collapsed.

But now we get to find out, because the tale of Rapture's rise and fall has just been published as a novel. And fitting for BioShock, it stands on a higher plane than most other video game-derivative books!

BioShock: Rapture is written by John Shirley, with plenty of input from BioShock creator Ken Levine. And having read it, I cannot recommend it enough for BioShock fans. BioShock: Rapture is a masterful working of the bits and pieces of Rapture's history that we learned throughout the two games, with a healthy dose of real-life history and politics thrown in. The result is a magnificent epic that in truest BioShock fashion leaves it to the reader to arrive at his or her own conclusions about morality.

The novel begins in 1945. Immediately after the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, billionaire industrialist Andrew Ryan has at last become disillusioned with a modern world hellbent on suicide. Ryan - who fled from the Communist revolution in Russia as a child - has also grown disgusted to the point of pathological hatred with the socialistic programs of Roosevelt's New Deal. With apparently no nation on Earth that he can feel at home, Andrew Ryan resolves to make a nation for himself and others who want to live at the discretion of no government or religion.

No doubt everyone who's played a BioShock game has wondered: "How the heck did Ryan build a city on the floor of the North Atlantic?" We find out how in BioShock: Rapture. Yeah there's some "deus ex mechanics" involved (particularly in regard to how Rapture isn't crushed to bits by the intense water pressure) but I found that such concerns were adequately addressed for what is admittedly a work of retro-historical science-fiction. And we also discover how Rapture was populated, per Ryan's peculiar standards. All the characters from the two games that we've come to know and love and all too often hate are there: from Andrew Ryan himself to master plumber Bill McDonagh (who gets quite a fulfilling backstory), on through to Sofia Lamb and the lunatic artist Sander Cohen, who will soon give entirely whole new meaning to the phrase "flaming homosexual".

But there are two factors in particular that come to play a part in the larger tale of Rapture. The first is the man who is known as Frank Fontaine (which is all I'm going to say if you haven't played the game yet). The second is the discovery of ADAM: the substance that makes the gene-changing plasmids possible. It is the plasmids which will eventually intoxicate with power most of the population of Rapture. A population that is growing increasingly restless and frustrated with utopian promises that fail to deliver. So it is that a series of circumstances come into being that lead up to the explosive events of December 31st, 1958: the day that Rapture erupted into civil war.

BioShock: Rapture not only answered questions stemming from my own curiosity about Rapture, it also cleared up quite a lot of material that I was a bit cloudy about. The part about how Fontaine Futuristics was taken over by Ryan was intriguing and illuminating, and that Andrew Ryan - a self-styled champion of capitalism - would become that which he hates most and nationalize an entire industry is an irony that is not lost upon the reader. We also get a better picture of how the Little Sisters came into being... along with their horrifying wardens, the Big Daddies.

BioShock: Rapture is by far one of the more satisfying novels to have sprung from a video game franchise that I have found. John Shirley has performed an elegant job at taking the enormously rich environment of the BioShock games and not only revealing more of the tapestry of Rapture but also reconciling details where such was needed. And just as much as I hope and pray that there will eventually be a true BioShock 3, I find myself very much desiring that this will be but the first of more novels that delve into that beckoning city deep beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Highly recommended, even if you haven't played BioShock yet!


PapaBear007 said...

hey you left the part out where I found the book for you bro hahahaha.

Chris Knight said...

Not only that but you found it a few days before it was SUPPOSED to have been on the bookstore shelves!! That store jumped the gun when it put BioShock: Rapture out :-)

K. said...

Read the DOOM novel. It's total crap!

Chris Knight said...

I read the DOOM novel. Both of them. And to call them "crap" is a dire insult to crap everywhere!

snowboardgamer said...

interesting, as a huge bioshock fan this would be something I could definetely sink my teeth into. There are a lot of questions about Rapture, and its one of the best and most intriguing game environments ever created IMO.