Fiction of the Sixth World
We’ve had several posts lately on gaming-inspired fiction, so I thought I’d continue the trend by taking a closer look at a couple of my most recent reads. The thread that links them is my recent re-acquaintanceship with the Shadowrun setting. I’ve gone back to some of the setting’s most epic classic fiction, as well as the most recent, in print short works, and I’m going to share my thoughts. This will be my LAST post on Shadowrun for while (at least until new products from the “Year of Shadowrun” start to hit the stands), so I’ll try to make it a good one.
While I read a number of the old school Shadowrun novels when they were fresh, I only made a dent in thirty odd books that were published during the FASA years. Some of them, like the classic “Secrets of Power” trilogy (that kicked the fiction series off), were quite good–they had heart and made the setting seem larger. Others fell into the predictable patterns that turn a lot of folks off of gaming fiction: Mary Sue-ism, home-campaignism, and… well… generally hackery. That said, I’m usually willing to give things a pass if I can squeeze a little enjoyment out them…
One series I always regretted missing was the Dragon Heart Saga. Author Jak Koke details the adventures of Ryan Mercury, the late Dragon in Chief Dunkelzahn’s right hand man, as he tries to make good on his scaly mentor’s final request. Moreover, Koke explores some of the exciting metaphysics and setting secrets that tie all the way back to the “fourth world” of Earthdawn (back in the golden days, when Shadowrun was explicitly the future of the Earthdawn setting. Gir voice: “I loveded you, FASA. I loveded you…”).
Let me say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Koke’s books are thoughtful and well-written, with excellent characterizations (as in “characters that grow and change, and that don’t feel like wooden marionettes”), and a plot that really moves. He’s not afraid to get mature or to push the boundaries to a degree that fiction blazoned with an RPG logo is usually loath to (lets say, these are “R” not PG-13 like most). I’d recommend these to anyone with the wherewithal to find them–like the rest of classic Shadowrun novels, these are stuck in legal limbo while the rights to publish get sorted out. I hope they do soon, because I’d love to get reacquainted with the classic setting through these novels, but not if I have to track each one down individually. They’d be much better on my iPad…
I’ve also read the two most recent works of Shadowrun fiction, the novella “Neat” by Russell Zimmerman, and the short fiction compilation “Spells and Chrome,” edited by John Helfers. “Neat” follows James Kincaid, a burnt out mage turned private dick, working the steel canyons of Seattle of 2070, and his Gal Friday Ariana. In many respects, Zimmerman’s story is the opposite of Koke’s. While Koke’s Mercury is caught in (literally) earth-shattering events, Zimmerman’s Kincaid gives us very much a bottom-up view of the setting, giving readers a perspective on the dregs of Sixth World society. “Neat” comes in at roughly 100 very well written pages (give or take–I read it on my phone), and at $3 bucks on Kindle, it’s a total steal. Read this book.
The last of my recent forays into Shadowrun fiction is the 2011 anthology, “Spells & Chrome.” My wife picked this up at our friendly local game store, and when she finished it I dove in. Now, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with short story anthologies. I’ve rarely walked away from an anthology feeling like I bought more than half of a good book with a bunch of ‘meh’ in between. And to be honest, “Spells and Chrome” did little to disabuse me of that fact. That said, the whole thing seriously evokes the Shadowrun vibe that I was craving, and there are some seriously good stories in there, including an entertaining entry by gaming legend Steve Kenson, and another by Michael Stackpole. All in all, a decent read, but I wish I had picked up the Kindle edition rather than paper…
I think these recent reads have helped me equalize my brain and break off my Shadowrun fixation. This’ll be my last Shadowrun post for a while, at least until the new crop of games pop up on Kickstarter or on the shelves of my FLGS. That said, I may scope out a couple more Shadowrun novels, or some more gaming fiction. Anyone got a recommendation for me?
Ever read “Streets of Blood”?
I have not! What makes it worth picking up?
Hey Chris, thanks for the positive review and general mojo! It’s always great to hear that someone liked following Kincaid around for a few days, and the feedback is greatly appreciated. Keep an eye out for the Shadowrun Returns anthology (featuring a ton of Shadowrun classics like Tom Dowd and Michael Stackpole, along with some of us upstart whippersnappers), hopefully it’ll help you get over your ambivalence towards anthology pieces. 😉 For more general Shadowrun fiction advice? I always tell people to just snatch up whatever old paperbacks they can find, where ever they can find them — cast a wide net, buy ’em in cheap lots on eBay or something, and just dig in. The feel and tone of those old books are all so different, it’s hard to know what someone’s gonna really dig, versus what’s gonna rub ’em the wrong way. Buy ’em cheap, buy ’em often, and I think you won’t be too disappointed. If pressed into HAVING to give a recommendation, though, I say folks can’t go wrong with anything that’s got “Nigel Findley” written on it.
Hey Russel, nice of you to swing by. I enjoyed Kincaid’s romp quite a bit. It reminded me of what I enjoyed about the Dresden Files, when they more focused on casework and less on metaplot. I am looking forward to the next anthology though. You’re spot on about Nigel Findley though. I’ve been rereading some of his old sourcebooks, and that guy was the heart and soul of Shadowrun for a long time. It’s a real shame that he passed so young.