BioShock: Rapture Review

July 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Novels, Other

Author: John Shirley

Publisher: Titan Books  

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: 19th July 2011  

RRP: £7.99

BioShock has some of the best storytelling in gaming. The underwater city of Rapture has already seen its downfall in the two games, although it’s not difficult to imagine what caused this mess: the back story, told through audio diaries, is just so rich that, like a good book, images will have appeared in many a head. Well, I’m happy to say that BioShock finally has a novel, which sets up the events to the series of games wonderfully.

Andrew Ryan will be a familiar figure to many who have played BioShock – a Russian immigrant, who was born as Andrei Rianofski before moving to America. Ryan is important to BioShock lore, having created the utopian underwater city that was a character all by itself in the series of games.

At the beginning of John Shirley’s novel, Rapture is merely a dream: an idea that comes about due to Ryan’s distaste for the war torn world of 1945 (he fears ultimate destruction, following America’s dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima) as well as the heavy rules in place that he feels has taken away the freedom of the American people. Rapture is the tonic to all of this – a hideaway place that gives Ryan, and people like him, a place to live safely and free of taxes, censorship, and where science would thrive.

The building of Rapture is explained wonderfully, with the major character of Bill McDonagh entering the book as a freelance plumber who just happens to be fixing one of Andrew Ryan’s toilets, and after a chance meeting with “The Great Man” and a conversation between the two, McDonagh is later offered a job as a building engineer for Rapture. The underwater utopian city is top secret and is often referred to as the North Atlantic Project early in the novel, while the citizens of Rapture are exclusively invited to be a part of this new world, but with no option to leave by their own free will, such is Ryan’s desire to keep the city hidden and safe.

There are some great characters in these pages. Andrew Ryan is exactly the type of man that he was in the games – a great visionary, who is charismatic and speaks so inspirationally that the author uses exclamation marks liberally whilst the man is speaking. There is also a definite human touch to Bill McDonagh and his family, while the more menacing characters almost jump out of the pages.

The novel is set over the course of fourteen years, beginning with Ryan’s great vision soon coming into fruition, and we later find out how mismanagement, rebels and science brought about its downfall. The Rapture at the beginning of the book is an astonishing place – a place in which many of the characters find to be a true utopia, but later on it becomes a dangerous place, a city to be feared, with some characters dreaming of their escape and the sky above. And, just like the games, while the city does not speak, the author’s writing is enough to make Rapture into a major character all by itself. Shirley’s detail is immense enough to make the novel slot nicely into the BioShock universe – it certainly feels like a proper part of it, with characters, situations, audio recordings, places and unethical science being borrowed from the games.

Plasmids, Big Daddies and Little Sisters are all products of science in the games, and they all do make prominent appearances, if not being entirely explained to those that may not have prior knowledge. Plasmids are of course syringes that enhance people, but have some nasty side effects, with some becoming crazy Splicers through overuse, while Big Daddies protect their Little Sisters from harm. Yes, this novel is BioShock through and through, there’s no mistaking that.

BioShock: Rapture is almost everything I would have wanted from a BioShock novel. John Shirley was certainly the man for the job, as the 470 pages just feel so authentic to the series that anyone who has played and loved the stories of those games should definitely read this novel. Perhaps I should warn those who haven’t already played the original game, though, as this novel does contain some major spoilers.