Book Review: Perfect Dark: Initial Vector By Greg Rucka



Book CoverPerfect Dark: Initial Vector
(Perfect Dark Series, Book 1)

Greg Rucka

Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Publisher: Tor
Format: Paperback, 346 Pages
Date: 25th November 2005

ISBN-10: 1405090596
ISBN-13: 9781405090599




The year is 2020. Corporations control everything. In the name of domination, these sprawling organisations have recruited their own military forces to fight clandestine battles against one another—a war fought in the boardrooms and won in the shadows, with the public none the wiser. Ex-bounty hunter Joanna Dark has unwillingly seen the front lines of this war. Her run-in with dataDyne, the world’s most powerful hyper-corporation, has left her with a wound that only vengeance can heal.

There is a good reason why media tie-in novels have a poor reputation. These books, by and large, are lowest common denominator dreck published for no other reason than to exploit and capitalise on the success and popularity of a “property” in a different medium: be it film, television or games. For all intents and purposes media tie-in books are authorised, glorified fan fiction that all too often struggles to exceed the quality of the unauthorised variety. With rare exceptions, even when an established, award winning author is brought in to take on writing duties, the end results are invariably sub-par.

In theory there’s no reason why, Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, could not have bucked this trend. The utilisation of a kick-ass, gun-toting heroine from a highly regarded video game franchise, in the capable hands of an author and comic book writer with the pedigree of Greg Rucka, should have made for a great read. Alas, the odds were always against this being the case. Good books take time to write, and require a certain amount of passion and dedication on the part of the writer. Unfortunately, these things are in short supply when it comes to media tie-in novels. Publishers inevitably want these books fast tracked to meet a predetermined publication date, while an author contracted to deliver the manuscript is unlikely to be fully invested in writing a story that has been outlined by someone else, based upon source material that he or she may not be familiar with.

Even if none of these constraints were an issue in the publication of this particular book, there was a clear warning sign that Perfect Dark: Initial Vector would never rise above the level of abject mediocrity. From the outset, the book is handicapped by the decision to base the story on, Perfect Dark: Zero, the Xbox 360 game released in 2005, rather than the original Perfect Dark that graced the Nintendo 64, five years earlier. Though clearly a mistake, it’s a choice that should be understood in the context of both the game developer and book publisher obviously wanting the release of the game and novel to coincide, in addition to being connected to each other narratively. In hindsight, the people responsible for the decision must realise this was an error—after all, there is a reason why the Nintendo game is hailed as a classic that is still remembered fondly to this day, whereas many gamers are unaware of the existence of the forgettable and vastly inferior Xbox game.

In light of the fact that the natural audience for the book are readers with happy memories of playing the original Perfect Dark, it’s a shame so little effort was expended on constructing a narrative equally as compelling as that of the game. Aside from its great gameplay, one of the reasons why Perfect Dark is so highly regarded is the strength of its story: a sci-fi action thriller, in a near future world dominated by powerful corporations, that was blessed with several surprising twists, little of which is present within the pages of this book. Instead, what is served up is protagonist, Joanna Dark, working as an agent of the Carrington Institute in an uninspired, by the numbers, tale which sees her spearheading a quest on behalf of her benefactor, Daniel Carrington, to take down their mutual nemesis, dataDyne, the worlds most powerful hyper corporation, intent on world domination. But in fairness, while the plot isn’t particularly gripping, it is not the main culprit for why the story is so weak. The fault lies almost entirely with the structure of the narrative.

It might be taken for granted that a media tie-in novel based on a first-person shooter game should be written in the first person, so it’s certainly not unreasonable of readers to expect this story to be told entirely from Joanna Dark’s perspective. The creators of this tale, however, had other ideas. Not only does Perfect Dark: Initial Vector utilise the third person omniscient point of view, it also follows multiple characters throughout. If it wasn’t bad enough that there are numerous scenes in which Joanna is conspicuous by her absence, the author’s constant switching between characters makes for a very disjointed, unfocussed read. It’s not an exaggeration to state how infuriating the continuous and excessive transitioning is, which will likely make the book a chore to read for most people.

Any readers willing to take a chance on Perfect Dark: Initial Vector would be well advised to keep their expectations in check. Even then, no matter how low the bar is set, a certain amount of disappointment is more or less guaranteed. While the book may not be terrible, it’s certainly a forgettable read. And, finally, it’s also worth clarifying that though the book takes place several months after the events of the Xbox 360 game, Perfect Dark: Zero, it is not essential for anyone to have played the game first in order to be able to follow the story.







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