Shadowrun: Hell on Water
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Page Count: 235 (estimated)
Release Date: 12/26/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
I wasn’t sure what to expect diving head first into what is actually my first Shadowrun novel. I’ve read the game books and played the console and now PC games that were set in the universe but never really hit on the fiction. While I don’t think going into this one would be good if you’d never picked up anything related to Shadowrun before, it is kind of an interesting tale about a run gone horribly wrong. Then again, what run ever goes right?
The book focuses on a group slapped together for this particular run. Set in Lagos and Nigeria, this isn’t even remotely an area I’m familiar with on top of being a setting in the Sixth World which means it’s cyberpunk and not quite our own, but you don’t have to rely on knowing the definitions of the Lagosian slurs they use to get by. Two members of the group are professionals from Seattle while everyone else is local and while they’ve been brought in for a particular run, events quickly happen that start kicking things in revealing different secrets of each of the locals that they really didn’t want known. You’ve got a street samurai who has a really violent streak, a dwarf decker with some dark secrets to match her skills, a rigger who detests being everyone’s ride but knows that’s what groups expect from him, and a shaman who’s trying to find her place and some justice as well.
Their job is to simply collect three cases and get those cases and their contents from the mainland and over to the Lagos Island where all the big corporations in the area like to play. The original plan falls apart, of course, so the group that’s barely holding it together ends up having to take the Third Mainland Bridge, a 14km long bridge that they’ll have to take on foot because sections of it have collapsed making travel by vehicle practically impossible. This of course means defending their packages from all sorts of local trouble and getting it across the bridge in one piece to collect on their payday. Being runners and professionals, they didn’t ask too many questions at the start, but after a while they realize they probably should have looked a little more into who they’re working for and just what it is exactly they’re transporting.
The book is told through several different ways. The first of which, the story itself is being told by someone recounting the run to the reader, presumably by someone who knows the runners or at least one of them and the events that happened well enough to recount them. It starts off with them already having picked up the packages and heading for their doomed transport and continues from there with some key flashback scenes and nice headers for the chapters that are flashbacks so you know right when they’re supposed to be happening. I generally hate flashbacks like this, mainly because usually it’s a certain point and then the storyteller goes back to tell us how it happened up to that point which completely kills the suspense. By doing brief flashbacks like this we instead get character motivation for what happens next, just like you’d get if someone were telling the story to someone else for emphasis, and for the most part it works pretty well.
The bigger issue with this story, is that we end up revisiting a few obstacles the heroes already got passed at one point and having them get passed again feels almost unnecessary. It does lead to some rather humorous exchanges and decent action scenes, but at the same time feels like ground retread. It could have easily been handled a bit differently, especially after looking at the map of the city as it is currently and trying to figure out how that particular sequence would have played out as described. So it could have been shortened a little bit or had a few different things happen to move things along. The best thing about this section is it gives a few of the characters moments to shine within the group of runners.
The only other issue I had is the storyteller him or herself. While this is done through that person, the character voice for the storyteller is really strong in the first few chapters and then instead of letting it slide a bit here and there, that voice just drops off almost entirely just to reappear once or twice. It served initially to draw me into it, but then once I noticed it was gone kind of kicked me out of the story a bit. The storyteller’s voice could have been a bit stronger throughout, but it’s not a make or break it for the book itself.
Overall I like the characters and the banter. The run seemed a bit too simplistic and a bit too much like a fetch quest at first. There are far more layers to it but when you break it all down the runners are simply playing the part of couriers here. Granted they’re playing the part of courier and there’s something else going on, but it reminded me a bit too much of why I hate having so many of these to do in video games. This ends up being far more interesting than it first appears. The book does move along pretty well without losing the reader, but it does feel like several of the plot threads get dropped by the ending. The ending does work, but ultimately the reader is left like the runners in the book who are telling each other war stories – all are left wondering about details that the storyteller didn’t disclose at all, so we only really get a taste of what happened. This is nowhere as satisfying as a bigger conclusion and so the book fails to give readers and Shadowrun fans alike what they truly want.