Welcome to Forgotten Tomes, a recurring column featuring literary works of science fiction and fantasy for review. In today’s debut installment, I will be reviewing World of Shadows from Catalyst Game Labs.
I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for series fantasy sci-fi. You know, 80s and 90s era novels set in familiar settings; Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Forgotten Realms, Marvel. A pretty serious guilty pleasure for me has always been ROC Fantasy’s line of Shadowrun novels. The setting, a nihilistic and dystopian grungepunk saga, pitting colorful and imperfect characters against the corporate machine, really spoke to me. With a blend of magic, super-tech, and serious cyberpunk chops, it is still easy for me to remember why I am so enamored with the stories set in the universe.
Thus, it was with an excited squee and great gusto that I plunked down my hard-earned nuyen upon seeing that Catalyst Game Labs had several new Shadowrun novels for sale. I eagerly cracked the cover on World of Shadows; listed as an anthology, the collection on display here runs the gamut from snapshots of larger schemes to fully enclosed plots spanning multiple micro-chapters. Clocking in with a solid 18-pack of stories, there is something for everyone here.
The stories come at you from a number of different angles. You’ll investigate spirits with with slum-squatting mages and seek justice with chromed out street samurai. Somewhat standard but still quality fare. There are also several shorts that twist the story as only the shadows can. You’ll follow a Mr. Johnson as a run goes sour, and step into the shoes of a fixer in a foreign land, making life and death deals in a digital casbah. Some of the content here is so far off the beaten path from traditional, it surprised me (in a good way, more often than not). While most of the writing is great, there are at least a few instances of some heavy handedness with some of the standard nomenclature, resulting in at least one awkward moment where I wondered how familiar the author was with the setting. Off putting? Yeah. Deal breaker? Certainly not.
World of Shadows includes stories from such headliners as Mel Odom, Stephen Dedman, and Michael A. Stackpole (with a new entry in his excellent Wolf And Raven series previously published by ROC Fantasy in the Shadowrun universe). The list of talent doesn’t stop there, by any means, with all authors detailed in short blurbs following the body of work. Also on offer is an instant guide to the Sixth World, containing a short timeline detailing the major events in the lead up to the Awakening, as well as fleshing out some of the bigger corporate players. While small, both additions are appreciated and useful.
At 330 pages and retailing at $12.95, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better set of short cyberpunk stories out there. Whether you are a grizzled veteran, or a relatively new face in the shadows, World of Shadows is an easy and enjoyable way to get back in the biz.