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Shadowrun: Technobabel
Stephen Kenson
Roc Books, 167 pages

Cover Art: Peter Peoples
Previous titles in the series include:
Robert N. Charrette Never Deal With A Dragon
Robert N. Charrette Choose Your Enemies Carefully
Robert N. Charrette Find Your Own Truth
Nigel D. Findley 2xS
Chris Kubasik Changeling
Robert N. Charrette Never Trust An Elf
Jordan K. Welsman Into The Shadows
Carl Sargent Streets Of Blood
Nigel D. Findley Shadowplay
Tom Dowd Night's Pawn
Nyx Smith Striper Assassin
Nigel D. Findley Lone Wolf
Nyx Smith Fade To Black
Carl Sargent & Marc Gasoigne Nosferatu
Tom Dowd Burning Bright
Nyx Smith Who Hunts The Hunter
Nigel D. Findley House Of The Sun
Lisa Smedman Bloodsport
Jak Koke Stranger Souls
Jak Koke Clockwork Asylum
Jak Koke Beyond The Pale
Mel Odom Headhunters
Jak Koke Dead Air
Lisa Smedman The Lucifer Deck
Nyx Smith Steel Rain
Nick Pollotta Shadowboxer
Robert N. Charrette Just Compensation
Carl Sargent & Marc Gascoigne Black Madonna
Mel Odom Preying For Keeps
Caroline Spector Worlds Without End
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alexander von Thorn

You wake up under a sheet. It's plastic, and goes all the way around. A body bag. Beneath you, other bodies, piled into a truck. It delivers you to a "chop shop", specializing in replacement organs for the elderly wealthy through involuntary organ donation. You can't remember your own name, let alone what you are doing here. Fortunately, not remembering some of the cyber-implants beneath your skin doesn't prevent you from defending yourself with them...

It's impossible to completely avoid clichés in a setting which is based on both the cyberpunk genre and commercial fantasy; the fact that it's a gaming world requires authors to go out of their way to draw on and explain the common themes. Stephen Kenson doesn't avoid these; instead, he embraces the archetypes of this milieu with gusto.

The first-person narrator discovers that he is a techno-shaman who takes the name of Babel. In true shamanistic custom, he undergoes a kind of spirit quest where his old personality dies and he is reborn anew; this explains the amnesia. But unlike traditional shamans who interact with spirits of nature and magic, a techno-shaman interacts directly with the Matrix, the global computer network, summoning the sentient spirits of the cyber-world. The techno-shamans, few that they are, have an ability to interact directly without the Matrix, without the need for sensory interfaces to mediate. This ability threatens the power of the world's megacorporate elite. So the megacorps find a way to infiltrate the secretive Netwalker tribe.

Technobabel has all the elements: corporate intrigue in orbital habitats; the eldritch schemes of dragons and immortal elves; the society of the urban tribals of the Rox, a section of the Boston sprawl abandoned by the corps; venal fixers and darker figures of the underworld; and a team of multiracial Shadowrunner commandos on an extraction mission with unexpected results. There is a power behind events even more secretive and all-powerful than the wealthiest megacorp or the wiliest dragon, but even this power is partly thwarted.

The use of first-person perspective is appropriate where the narrator's experience or perceptions are very different from the norm; this is certainly the case in this story. Only a few sections are written in first-person; in fact I was disappointed that the author lapsed into third person later in the story when describing the Babel character. Although there are more viewpoint characters than I would prefer, most of them hold onto the perspective for complete chapters. The writing style is economical and fast-paced, which suits an action story. A good touch is the use of quotes and commentary at the beginning of chapters; this is a Shadowrun motif, but it is only used lightly here, and works well. There are chunks of exposition, but they are handled well and don't interfere with the storytelling, while bringing up to speed readers who aren't familiar with the Shadowrun universe. The setting of a gaming world may be somewhat constrained, but the author has a secure command of the material; I was surprised to learn that this was his first novel. The back of the book has a chapter from Wolf and Raven, an upcoming Shadowrun novel by Mike Stackpole.

Technobabel is a striking novel of intrigue and mysticism. I think it's a must-read for Shadowrun fans, and a very good example of the narrow sub-genre of cyber-fantasy. I am definitely looking forward to more novels from Stephen Kenson.

Copyright © 1998 by Alexander von Thorn

Alexander von Thorn works two jobs, at The Worldhouse (Toronto's oldest game store) and in the network control centre of UUNET Canada. In his spare time, he is active in several fan and community organizations, including the Toronto in 2003 Worldcon bid. He is also a game designer, novelist-in-training (with the Ink*Specs, the Downsview speculative fiction writing circle), feeder of one dog and two cats, and avid watcher of bad television. He rarely sleeps.

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