Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?
July 20, 2011 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Gamers, have you ever looked in the sci-fi aisle of your bookstore and wondered how there could possibly be novels set in the worlds of "Gears of War" or "Doom," but nothing in the richly imagined distopia of Bioshock? Have you fed your Art Deco obsession with Ryan-inspired fan fiction, wishing for something more? Wish no longer: Bram Stoker Award winner, sci-fi novelist, punk rocker, Blue Oyster Cult lyricist, etc. John Shirley has written the first official BioShock novel, "BioShock: Rapture," which hit store shelves yesterday. An excerpt of the book, which is a prequel to the first game, is offered here from publisher Tor. posted by jbickers (63 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Open AtlasShrugged.doc
Find "steel"
Replace "plasmid"
Rename BioshockRapure.doc
Email manuscripts@tor.com
...
Open Budget.xls
Delete Row "NewKitchenCounters (Owed)"
posted by griphus at 12:23 PM on July 20, 2011 [20 favorites]


I'd rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty spork than read a video game tie-in novel.
posted by Justinian at 12:31 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


No. Every time I look at the SF aisle of a bookstore, I have to mentally filter out the 95% comprised of game, film and TV tie-ins, the shelf-hogging work of fantasy authors who don't know when to stop, books written by authors I've sworn never to read again because of their cringeworthy prose, and books featuring women in tight leather vests.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:31 PM on July 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'd rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty spork than read a video game tie-in novel.
posted by Justinian at 2:31 PM on July 20 [+] [!]


Ever heard about that whole book-judging-cover thing?

But no, I'm sure that it's automatically trash because of it's setting.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:33 PM on July 20, 2011


Please to be naming some of these excellent video game tie in novels?
posted by Justinian at 12:36 PM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some of the last items to be sold at a local Borders that was going out of business were the Gears of Wars novels, which was pretty encouraging.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:36 PM on July 20, 2011


I'd rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty spork than read a video game tie-in novel.

Eh. I've read some of the Halo novels, which are not really good by any means. But sometimes I'm in the mood for junk food for the brain.

I do miss the days when the comic book tie-ins were equal or better than their original material (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Starriors, I'm looking at you...)
posted by yeloson at 12:38 PM on July 20, 2011


Ever heard about that whole book-judging-cover thing?

But no, I'm sure that it's automatically trash because of it's setting.


To be fair, if people didn't judge books by their covers, there would probably not be so many novels based on video games, movies, etc.
posted by asnider at 12:39 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I read the tie-in novels for Mortal Kombat and Primal Rage, and they were both hilarious, but sadly I no longer have the time to read horrible novels just for the lulz.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:39 PM on July 20, 2011


Peter Watts wrote the tie-in novel for Crysis 2 - he's generally not regarded as a hack, and I liked the thing. It wasn't his best work - you could tell where he felt constrained by the need to stick to the game's "plot" - but it was perfectly decent.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 12:49 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


John Shirley's an accomplished author. It would be a mistake to presume that he can't make a silk purse out of this sow's ear.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:49 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you can count on one hand the number of video-game tie-in novels that are considered excellent novels on their own merits, outside of their related fandom - Greg Bear's Halo novel comes to mind. I've not read Shirley before, but his resume leads me to hope this might also be one. (Plus, I've read more than my share of disposable Star Trek and Doctor Who novels, just because I love the characters and the settings so much.)
posted by jbickers at 12:55 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to be a real fan of Shirley. Biggish name in the cyberpunk world. Though I haven't kept up with him in a good 30 years, so who knows.
posted by rtimmel at 1:01 PM on July 20, 2011


I've never read the Doom novels but friends have informed me that they go completely off the rails to the point where they are basically outsider art.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:01 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Peter Watts' Crysis novelization was significantly better than any videogame tie-in had a right to be. Which makes a fair amount of sense; his "The Things" short story was likewise much, much better than any piece of what was essentially fanfic had any right to be. I'm not sure what he'll do for the trifecta.
posted by Drastic at 1:02 PM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I liked Bioshock and I'm a big fan of Shirley (I'm in the middle of one of his short story collections, actually!) so I'll definitely have to check this out.
posted by brundlefly at 1:07 PM on July 20, 2011


I'm not sure what he'll do for the trifecta.

Furry poetry?
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never read the Doom novels but friends have informed me that they go completely off the rails to the point where they are basically outsider art.

The first book is a pretty faithful retelling of the game.

The second book brings the action back to Earth and heavily features the military might of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as humanity's last best hope against the demonic invaders.

The third book follows our heroes to the invaders' home planet. Oh, yeah, they weren't actually demons from Hell. They were genetically engineered to look like demons because their intel regarding the human psyche hadn't been updated since the Middle Ages.

In the fourth book, we learn that Earth was merely collateral damage in a galaxy-spanning war of ideologies between opposing philosophies of literary criticism.

Your friends are not wrong.
posted by Zozo at 1:16 PM on July 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


I read the tie-in novels for Mortal Kombat...

I remember a older kid (which would have put him in about sixth grade) wielding a copy of that Tom Clancy-sized brick in summer camp one year. Is it "worth" it?
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on July 20, 2011


I have looked in the sci-fi aisle of my bookstore and wondered how there could possibly be novels set in the worlds of "Gears of War" or "Doom," but no new Chtorr books.
posted by CarlRossi at 1:24 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The second book brings the action back to Earth and heavily features the military might of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as humanity's last best hope against the demonic invaders.


It really was weird and awesome all at the same time. Of course at the time I had a lot of Doom on the brain so that might have helped.
posted by jnrussell at 1:24 PM on July 20, 2011


It doesn't surprise me at all that there are Doom novels and Gears of War novels but Bioshock has so far been overlooked.

Doom and Gears of War are both shoot-em-ups with a very thin veneer of story behind them. That leaves a lot of room for a writer to work: how in the Doomiverse did everything come to happen? How did humans find out about the alien hell demons in the first place? What was it like when the aliens first found out about the hell demons? What was their war like? In Gears of War, how did the war begin? Where did the monster dudes come from? What is their society like? Et cetera. Et cetera. And Doom Guy and Marcus Fenix are both basically ciphers, so you have room to work with the primary characters to boot.

Bioshock, though, is a shoot-em-up where a lot of the questions are already answered by the game itself. How did Rapture come to be? Well, there are approximately four thousand audio logs over the course of the game explaining how it came to be. What did Andrew Ryan do when it started falling apart? Why did people play with plasmids? We know all this already. A book is redundant. Worse, the main character in Bioshock is literally a creation: he doesn't exist before the game starts!

There are questions you can ask about Bioshock that would make a good book (like "what kind of world ends up producing Rapture and having anybody think it is a good idea in the first place"), but apparently those are being saved for future games.
posted by mightygodking at 1:25 PM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Please to be naming some of these excellent video game tie in novels?

I say, this FPP does appear to be about one
posted by LogicalDash at 1:27 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


but no new Chtorr books.

Gerrold has said he's about done with A Method for Madness for like 15 years now. Soon I may begin to doubt the truth of that assertion!
posted by Justinian at 1:32 PM on July 20, 2011


It's not like Shirley's the first science fiction author to dash off a piece of tie-in mediocrity to pay his mortgage (or medical bills or bar tab or whatever). But the proliferation of such things certainly led me to avoid the SF&F aisle of the local Borders before it went away. I did see that Greg Bear had a Halo tie-in novel out recently, which I would be more cynical about if I hadn't kind of liked City at the End of Time, and really liked Hull Zero Three (his last two regular sf novels). I do get the impression that Halo is to current media tie-in what Star Trek novels were in the 70s and 80s, in terms of being the one area it's half-way respectable to do a tie-in for. I saw a a number of authors whose works I've liked over the years among Halo novel authors on amazon (Sean Williams, Eric Nylund, Tobias Buckell are the ones I remember).
posted by aught at 1:36 PM on July 20, 2011


I haven't read it in a while, but a System Shock fan ended up writing an entire novel-length retelling of the game. It wasn't really my style, but worked pretty well by departing liberally from the story.

The thing is, this just feels really unnecessary--as mgk said, we already know basically everything we need to about Rapture. With any luck, it's going to actually turn out to be some kind of slice-of-life about people in the city, like an extension of the audio logs. Or a retelling of Bioshock that doesn't end with a massive shootout.

I also never really know how I feel about Ken Levine and the Shock series. On the one hand, he consistently makes beautiful and enjoyable games about the effect of belief systems on ordinary people. On the other, how many failed dogmas is the man going to run through? "Exremism ruins lives" has been fertile ground for him, but I wish he wouldn't hang his hat on it quite so much.
posted by Tubalcain at 1:38 PM on July 20, 2011


Please to be naming some of these excellent video game tie in novels?

I kind of liked Michael A Stackpole, but it's been over twenty years since I've read his stuff and I'm not sure I trust my youthful judgment.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2011


Bill McDonagh was riding an elevator up to the top of the Andrew Ryan Arms—but he felt like he was sinking under the sea.

Wow...I wish I could say I stopped right there but I read the whole thing. Have to say, given the author's idea of "nuanced foreshadowing", I'm surprised Ryan didn't have fangs. All in all, the fact that the honest plumber and Ryan agree on their Randian beliefs creeps me out, but I have a sinking feeling about the whole mess.
posted by nickgb at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, something something underwater mortgage.
posted by nickgb at 1:43 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The scifi aisle of my local big box bookstore is filled with shelves upon shelves of Star-Wars and Star-trek universe novels and at least 60% of what's left isn't scifi at all but fantasy novels.

Asimov wept.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:59 PM on July 20, 2011


"I'd rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty spork than read a video game tie-in novel."

Eh, I've read worse than the "Halo" novels (the first three anyway) specifically "Magic:The Gathering tie-in novels. Those were bad, really, really bad. I mean incredibly bad. Superlatively awful. That is to say they really sucked. A lot. Seriously. Don't read those, they are really terrible.
posted by MikeMc at 2:00 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Asimov wept.

He was kind of a publishing whore in his day, too, so he shouldn't weep too hard.
posted by aught at 2:02 PM on July 20, 2011


He was kind of a publishing whore in his day, too, so he shouldn't weep too hard

If you mean he was incredibly productive in turning out consistently high quality prose I would whole-heartedly agree.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:04 PM on July 20, 2011


He was incredibly productive in turning out prose, anyway.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Eh, I've read worse than the "Halo" novels (the first three anyway) specifically "Magic:The Gathering tie-in novels. Those were bad, really, really bad. I mean incredibly bad. Superlatively awful. That is to say they really sucked. A lot. Seriously. Don't read those, they are really terrible.

You know, I read a Myst novel once, but thankfully I never made your mistake.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:43 PM on July 20, 2011


I thought Halo was itself a spin-off of the Iain Banks "Culture" books? Spin and anti-spin? Boom?
posted by ergomatic at 2:49 PM on July 20, 2011


Zozo's overview of the Doom novels makes them actually sounds pretty damn interesting. They sound batshit crazy, but I kind of want to read them now.
posted by asnider at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2011


aught: "It's not like Shirley's the first science fiction author to dash off a piece of tie-in mediocrity to pay his mortgage"

Apparently George Alec Effinger wrote a Zork novel and a novel set among the guards at Jabba the Hutt's palace. I'm not sure if I'd want to read either, but I find it interesting that they exist.
posted by brundlefly at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2011


It's not a massive stretch to view A Confederacy Of Dunces as a novelisation of Jet Set Willy.

Not for me, anyway.
posted by Jofus at 4:14 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Halo books are hit-and-miss. Nylund's work is generally decent, and fleshes out some important figures like the Master Chief and Dr. Halsey that are only subtly characterized at best in the games. William Dietz's book was awful, just a drab retelling of the first game with nothing new or interesting. And I've heard Greg Bear's Forerunner novel is quite good, with more emphasis on big science fiction ideas than relentless action.

My favorite of the ones I've read is Joe Staten's Contact Harvest -- he's a co-founder of Bungie and one of their main writers, so it deals with a lot of inside-baseball stuff in interesting ways that other authors couldn't really approach. The tail-ending was cringeworthy, though (but the epilogue was great).

If you want really intriguing Halo fiction though, you can't do better than the I Love Bees radio drama. Complex, professionally-acted, multi-layered improv storytelling across multiple mediums that became a milestone in the world of alternate reality games. Similar but on a smaller scale are the Terminals that Bungie did for Halo 3, which you can read here.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:22 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I played through the first Gears of War game several times with several people, and none of them ever believed me when I told them that the game not only had a plot beyond "run forward and explode," but it had a detailed and well thought out backstory with fertile ground for expansion and intrigue. I'm not sure how many times I had to explain the immulsion industry and the political history of Sera while blind-firing at some kind of rocket-demon. Now that I've played the second game and know that there's at least one novel, I'm not sure if I want to get involved in the expanded universe and nail down all of those sordid details about Fenix and Aspho fields. I suspect that I like the suggestion of complexity better than the actual realization. Plus, you know, I don't get to chainsaw monsters in a book.

Same story with bioshock.
posted by sandswipe at 4:22 PM on July 20, 2011


I dunno about the Doom novels, but have y'all read the Doom comic book?
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:25 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will not mock others' reading habits, for I seek out and enjoy hard sci-fi.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:34 PM on July 20, 2011


Apparently George Alec Effinger wrote a Zork novel and a novel set among the guards at Jabba the Hutt's palace.

Effinger would have written a novel set in the world of Charlie's Angels if someone offered to pay him to do it. Like Philip K. Dick, he was a brilliant man plagued by catastrophe but history hasn't been as kind to him as it eventually was to Dick. My wife and I actually met him in the late 1980's, I think during the period when he was either preparing to split or just had split with Beverly; he had also gone through a house fire, had no possessions, no income, was deeply in debt, and depending on the largesse of people in the SFWA community to survive. It was a bit shocking because all we knew of him was his fiction, but afterward I was never able to read The Wolves of Memory in quite the same way. Poor George knew from wolves a lot more than I had ever realized.
posted by localroger at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty spork than read a video game tie-in novel.

I'm guessing the downloadable LA Noire short stories by guys like Joe Haldeman are better than the game.

I tried reading the Baldur's Gate 2 novel. Ugh.

Most of the games I like are pretty story-lite, but I wouldn't mind reading Silent Hill novels instead of actually playing the games. Games tend to scare me more than books do.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:01 PM on July 20, 2011


I'm guessing the downloadable LA Noire short stories by guys like Joe Haldeman are better than the game.

Sorry, I mean Joe Lansdale. And Joyce Carol Oates? WTF?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:04 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have written official video-game tie-in novels. Specifically, I have written Sonic the Hedgehog tie-in novels. (I have mentioned this in other threads.) I was young and the money was awful, but as a part of the process of getting past your first million words it has a lot to recommend it, and working within someone else's constraints is an interesting and instructive discipline. And I still have a fondness for Sonic in the Fourth Dimension, which was an attempt to get pretty much every time-travel schtick I could think of into a single book, and which also includes some pretty good jokes and a short bondage scene.

(My editor was asleep on the job that day--my editor, who also worked on Virgin Publishing's porn line, and for whom the scene was intended. Of course any red-blooded author, on receiving the proofs and realising that a perhaps misguided passage is going to get into print... does he grab the phone and insist the text be removed? Or does he see what he can get away with in the next book? So in Sonic and the Silicon Warriors Sonic gets a piercing through one of his spikes, and then is suspended by a hook through that piercing, in what the cognoscenti would recognise as something a lot like the Sundance ritual--hey, it was the early 90s and Modern Primitives was still hip.)

It's hack work and nobody is going to pretend it isn't, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun to do, and the end results can be more than you expect.
posted by Hogshead at 5:24 PM on July 20, 2011 [32 favorites]


That's so sad about George Alec Effinger, localroger. I read When Gravity Fails when I was... 12? 13? - and it really made an impact on me, although I don't remember it well now. Time to see if there's a Kindle version...
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:28 PM on July 20, 2011


Knowing Sonic fans, Hogshead, I'm guessing your books have more fans than you realize.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:33 PM on July 20, 2011


localroger: "Effinger would have written a novel set in the world of Charlie's Angels if someone offered to pay him to do it. Like Philip K. Dick, he was a brilliant man plagued by catastrophe but history hasn't been as kind to him as it eventually was to Dick. My wife and I actually met him in the late 1980's, I think during the period when he was either preparing to split or just had split with Beverly; he had also gone through a house fire, had no possessions, no income, was deeply in debt, and depending on the largesse of people in the SFWA community to survive. It was a bit shocking because all we knew of him was his fiction, but afterward I was never able to read The Wolves of Memory in quite the same way. Poor George knew from wolves a lot more than I had ever realized."

I was first exposed to Effinger when he visited my creative writing class at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in... 1997? He was already very, very ill at that point, but his visit was one of the highlights of my time there. Really fascinating guy, and as the sole SF-fan in the class it was really nice to talk to a working writer of the genre.
posted by brundlefly at 5:40 PM on July 20, 2011


That excerpt was shite on the level of Forgotten Realms novels. So it's about as good as Atlas Shrugged. If the whole book has a similar philosophical tone to the excerpt, the Internet Libertarians are going to love it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:44 PM on July 20, 2011


I played through the first Gears of War game several times with several people, and none of them ever believed me when I told them that the game not only had a plot beyond "run forward and explode," but it had a detailed and well thought out backstory with fertile ground for expansion and intrigue. I'm not sure how many times I had to explain the immulsion industry and the political history of Sera while blind-firing at some kind of rocket-demon. Now that I've played the second game and know that there's at least one novel, I'm not sure if I want to get involved in the expanded universe and nail down all of those sordid details about Fenix and Aspho fields. I suspect that I like the suggestion of complexity better than the actual realization. Plus, you know, I don't get to chainsaw monsters in a book.

Having just played the original Gears of War and loved it, I'm torn between wanting to know more of the plot and not caring beyond 'Locust bad. Marcus chainsaw Locusts. OOHRAH!'
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:51 PM on July 20, 2011


While we're on the topic of established and respected sci-fi authors writing genre books: Alastair Reynolds has just announced that he's writing a Doctor Who book. Third Doctor and Jo.
posted by jbickers at 4:24 AM on July 21, 2011


While we're on the topic of established and respected sci-fi authors writing genre books: Alastair Reynolds has just announced that he's writing a Doctor Who book. Third Doctor and Jo.

That's kind of interesting, though I have been worried about Reynolds quantity / quality ratio since it was announced last year he had a contract with Gollancz to write ten books over the next ten years (I wonder if the Dr Who book is in addition to that or part of it).

It also reminds me that Paul Cornell, who's written for Dr Who (including tie in novels) also has a couple decent non-tie-in sf books, Something More and British Summertime (I read them years ago and had no idea of his Dr Who connection at the time).
posted by aught at 7:10 AM on July 21, 2011


Am I the only one who still cringes and wants to punch someone whenever I hear the term "sci-fi"? I realize I lost this battle like 25 years ago which is unfortunate given I was a child at the time and didn't know I was fighting it, but here we are.

Sci-fi is giant ants, ray guns, and cheese.
posted by Justinian at 11:25 AM on July 21, 2011


but no new Chtorr books.

I was not expecting to get so mad reading this thread. I'm starting to to think if it comes out, I won't read it just out of spite.
posted by jefftang at 12:16 PM on July 21, 2011


Am I the only one who still cringes and wants to punch someone whenever I hear the term "sci-fi"?

No.
posted by aught at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2011


Hey, we got Dance, Madness can't be far behind.
posted by flaterik at 2:31 PM on July 21, 2011


As has been mentioned a couple of times before in this thread, Crysis: Legion by Peter Watts is about as good as an FPS tie-in novel can be. I haven't played either Crysis game, I picked it up on the strength of Watts's name alone, and I'm not sorry I did.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:53 PM on July 21, 2011


Greg Bear's Halo novel

I somehow got Stephen Baxter and Greg Bear confused in my brain and just spent ten minutes looking at these words and trying to reset my brain.
posted by edbles at 3:28 PM on July 21, 2011


I haven't read them but I've heard good things about the books based on the (tabletop) games put out by Games Workshop.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 6:21 AM on July 22, 2011


Some of the Games Workshop novels were written by "Jack Yeovil", a nom de plume for writer and critic Kim Newman.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:23 AM on July 22, 2011


The first tranche of Games Workshop novels and anthologies were edited by David Pringle and included work by the likes of Ian Watson, Charles Stross, Kim Newman and others. The second tranche, published by a division of GW called the Black Library, lacked the star-power but has created some best-selling authors of its own, notably Dan Abnett and Bill King, and has re-released most of the old books as well.

I've written three novels (one co-written) and several short stories for the Black Library.
posted by Hogshead at 7:47 AM on July 22, 2011


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