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Perfect Dark: Initial Vector
Tor paperback £6.99
review by Alasdair Stuart
Renowned for his bleak crime novels and the superb comic series Queen And Country, Greg Rucka appeared to be an unusual choice to write this series of tie in novels for the Perfect Dark series of computer games. Whilst the games cover the sort of action/ espionage genre that Rucka has worked in before the original in particular has a huge science fiction element that seemed slightly outside Rucka's field of expertise. As a result, exactly what he'd do with the series was open to speculation, until now, with the publication of Perfect Dark: Initial Vector.
Picking up after the events of X-Box game Perfect Dark Zero, spin-off novel Initial Vector provides some welcome background on the world as well as answering the question of how Rucka would deal with the science fiction element; namely, he doesn't. At least not directly... As the novel opens, it becomes clear that this is a revival of one of the most enduring genres in modern science fiction: cyberpunk.
When a Carrington Institute agent is captured by dataDyne security, he manages to get a partial transmission to Jonathan Steinberg, Joanna's immediate boss. The transmission contains a file fragment mentioning 'Rose' and has been pulled from a dataDyne CEO's computer. Joanna overhears an argument between Steinberg and Carrington about the rescue mission and bullies her way onto it. However, when things go wrong she's forced to question not only Carrington's motives but her own humanity.
Rucka is a past master at creating flawed heroines and here he brings some welcome humanity to Joanna Dark. By focussing on the younger version of the character featured in Zero, he's able to bring a flawed element to her that's in stark contrast to the ruthless killing machine of the original game. Here, Joanna is intelligent enough to know that she may not be on the same side but lacks the confidence to confront her problems directly. She's supremely talented and utterly deadly but not experienced and Rucka gets a great deal of the novel's drama out of that fact. In his hands, she's closer to Tara Chace of Queen And Country than the sub-Bond superwoman of the original game.
However, Joanna is only half the equation. Rucka is clearly at home fleshing out the world of the games and the focus on the 'super-flu' that decimated Canada here gives him the opportunity to do that to the fullest. Laurent Hayes, the man whose blood holds the solution to the vaccine is particularly fun especially in his scenes with Joanna. In another world, Hayes would be a modern saint but here he's simply a man who got lucky and finds himself minus the only good card he's even been dealt. The end result is a character that is as sympathetic as he is ruthless, one of the elements of the book that stays with you long after you've finished it.
On a related note, Rucka's description of corporate culture and espionage is both well thought out and coldly gripping. The description of Carrington operative Benjamin Able's intricate infiltration of dataDyne and how completely futile it's revealed to be is both gripping and casually horrifying, driving home exactly how buttoned down this world is. In Rucka's hands, it becomes clear that whilst Joanna is repulsed by her skills, and what she's called on to use them for; she remains one of the few genuinely humane people left in the world. Here, everyone's out for themselves and you can either help or get out of the way.
This is a real step up from the usual tie-in fare and that's thanks completely to the quality of writer involved. Rucka creates a world that carries his own stamp and also fits well with the established game world. It leaves you wanting more and I can't think of a better recommendation than that.
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