CORPORATIONS CONTROL EVERYTHING, EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE. WITH ONE EXCEPTION.
Not even sci-fi action heroine, Joanna Dark, could rescue this book from the clutches of abject mediocrity.
Perfect Dark: Initial Vector
(Perfect Dark Series, Book 1)
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Format: Paperback, 346 Pages
Date: 25th November 2005
There is a good reason why the media tie-in novel has 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” produced 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 sometimes 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 is no reason why, Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, could not have bucked this trend. The use 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. But 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 is maybe unfamiliar with.
Even if none of those constraints were an issue in the publication of this particular book, there was a clear warning sign, to me, that Perfect Dark: Initial Vector would never rise above the level of abject mediocrity. From the outset, the book was handicapped by the decision to base the story on, Perfect Dark: Zero, the Xbox 360 game released in 2005, rather than the 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 that both the game developer and book publisher obviously wanted the release of the game and novel to coincide, in addition to being connected to each other narratively. In hindsight I’d like to think the people responsible for that decision would concede that 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 most gamers are unaware of the existence of the forgettable and vastly inferior Xbox game.
In light of the fact that the people most likely to pick up the book are readers with happy memories of playing the original, Perfect Dark, it is a shame that so little effort was expended on constructing a narrative 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, former bounty hunter, now agent of the Carrington Institute, in an uninspired, by the numbers tale, which sees Joanna spearheading her benefactor, Daniel Carrington’s quest to take down their mutual nemesis, dataDyne; the worlds most powerful hyper corporation, intent on world domination. But I don’t wish to delve too deeply into the plot, for while it’s not 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.
You would think that a media tie-in novel based on a first-person shooter game would logically be written in the first person. I certainly don’t think that it was unreasonable to expect the story to be told entirely from Joanna Dark’s perspective. The creators obviously 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 I had to put up with numerous scenes in which Joanna is conspicuous by her absence, the author’s constant switching between characters made for a very disjointed, unfocussed read. Not to mention how infuriating I found the continuous and excessive transitioning. It made the book a real chore to read.
I wish I could think of something positive to write about my experience with the book, but I can’t. Except for maybe that it serves as a reminder as to why media tie-in books are so poorly thought of. I don’t even recall how I came to own the book, but I do know why it remained unread on my shelf for so many years. I had pretty low expectations of the book, yet it failed to live up to them, despite how low the bar was set. That being said, much of my dissatisfaction is the by-product of what the book is not, rather than what it is. I wanted a story told entirely in the first person, that took its cues from the original Perfect Dark game, rather than the inferior follow up. However, if I try to be as objective as possible, I can acknowledge that there is enough in the book, in terms of action, that devoted fans of the games will likely enjoy.
In closing, for the benefit of anyone who is still interested in the book, I should probably clarify that though the book takes place several months after the events of the Xbox 360 game, Perfect Dark: Zero, it is not essential that you play the game first to be able to follow the story.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.