Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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A Sunday Evening Catchup Review: Draco

Gaming fiction usually falls into two camps: a shallow, strictly rules-driven, description of a campaign or scenario, or a deeper work that draws on (and often expands) a game's background to tell a larger story. Luckily for us, the acclaimed SF writer Ian Watson's foray into gaming fiction is the latter kind. Built around Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 sci-fantasy war gaming universe, the first part of the Inquisition War trilogy, Draco, is the story of a man discovering purpose, all wrapped up in the trappings of space opera.

Watson is revelling in a new kind of freedom. Instead of building his own consistent universe he is playing with the inconsistencies of someone else's invented world. The swirling evil of chaos becomes just another toy, and the eternal conspiracies that surround humanity's Eternal Emperor are another. And Jaq Draco is a man trained from childhood to cut to the heart of these, a psychic inquisitor in the service of Empire and Man. Caught up on the trail of a mysterious harlequin and an invisible monster, Draco must travel to the dark heart of his civilisation to find out just what he must do to save it from the ultimate fascism.

There's a subtle political subtext in here, hidden beneath the swirling sexuality and the glowing tattoos. What is the acceptable defence against that which we see as anathema? Is it total control, or total freedom - or a balanced place somewhere in between? The gothic splendour of Games Workshop's gaming universe isn't just a place for games and simulated war - it's a place where, like all speculative fictions, we can explore the world we live in. The 40th millennium really isn't so far away from today after all.

Not, perhaps Watson at his best, writing books like Under Heaven's Bridge or The Martian Inca, but certainly something that transcends the normal thud and blunder of gaming fiction. Worth reading as mind candy with a touch of intellectual spice.

(Thanks jaq for the book loan!)

(On the "to-be-reviewed" pile: The Year's Best SF 7, Hammerfall, Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom, and Strange But Not A Stranger)
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