Back to the Dark Future
By Cheryl Morgan
There are probably a few people reading this issue who still remember the aborted Dark Future role-playing game. That was a very long time ago, and cyberpunk is hardly the hot potato now that it was back in the 1980s. But Black Library has chosen to revive the Dark Future setting for a series of novels. Some of these will be re-issues of books commissioned by David Pringle back in the days when he ran Games Workshop’s publishing arm. Others will be brand new. I know Marc Gascoigne would prefer that I look at some of the newer books, and I will get round to them, but I can’t resist starting with some Kim Newman.
There is an art to writing tie-in novels, and Newman, or rather his were-form, Jack Yeovil, seems to have it off pat. You can’t make the writing too complex, and you have to fit in as best you can with the setting, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have interesting, well-drawn characters. And while poking fun at the product you are working with will get you fired very quickly, poking fun at anything and everything else appears to be OK, at least as far as GW/BL is concerned.
The set-up for Demon Download goes something like this. First of all we have a group of Fundies, conveniently based on Salt Lake City but not the Mormons who moved out when environmental collapse made Utah uninhabitable a few years back. This particular bunch of Fundies are, of course, led by an evil sorcerer who has been around for centuries. (Not that the believers know this, they have Faith.) The Bad Guy has summoned a particularly nasty demon that he intends to insert into the data networks of the USA and thereby destroy the world, heh! heh! heh! Thankfully the Vatican is onto him, and they have sent a nun to investigate.
Well, not any old nun, you understand. Sister Chantal Juillerat is not only a top class systems security expect, she’s also a highly trained assassin. And like all top class agents she has a neat car; a black Ferrari called Federico who has lots of big guns and a somewhat questionable taste in music, even for a car with a male personality module. You would have thought that by 2025 even AIs would have forgotten the Spice Girls.
Timeline is, of course, an issue with a book like this. The original book came out in 1993. The world has changed a little since then. Black Library and Newman have made an effort to update things, and as I have copies of both editions I have been able to check what has been done. Perhaps the most interesting change is that Prime Minister Archer has been transformed into Prime Minister Mandleson. A Tory PM is quite unthinkable these days.
But anyway, there’s funny stuff. Most of the action is set in Arizona. The rule of law has pretty much broken down, and the roads are only kept clear thanks to the hard work of the re-formed US Cavalry. Instead of fighting Injuns, they now spend their time hunting down Mad Max style motorcycle gangs (sorry, "motorsickle" gangs) of various persuasions (including Fundies). Sadly a bunch of hard-working, dedicated troopers who trace their ancestry back to General Custer are not the right people to go demon hunting, even if they have replaced their horses with sophisticated modern ve-hickles.
Yes siree, the poor cavalry, for all that their uniforms might be blue, are symbolically wearing red shirts. This means that Newman needs names for the brave soldiers who die in the line of duty. For example, Major McAuley and Captain Stableford. And, because the book was originally written back in 1993, someone who hadn’t yet made it out of the ranks:
Trooper Charlie Stross, in the guardhouse for mouthing back to Sergeant Quincannon after a twenty-mile forced march through the desert in full pack and gear, was mysteriously gone from his cell leaving only a couple of severed fingers, some cabbalistic symbols traced in blood and a chunk of what had tentatively been identified as a pancreas.
So, there’s a demon, there are lots of guns, and ve-hickles of various types. Lots of people die: troopers, gangsters, and various bystanders, none of whom is called Bubba though one of them probably should have been. All of which goes to show that it is a tough life in the 21st Century US Cavalry. Trooper Nathan Stack does get to hang out with a seriously cute nun who reminds him of watching Angelina Jolie movies when he was a kid. But he also has to put up with her big-mouthed foreign car.
Three drones in formation hovered above the car, locking on. Lights flashed around their rims. Stack knew they were warming up for a particle beam thrust.
"Ciao, dumb boulders!" shouted the car as it exploded them one by one. "This is too easy. They’re only using American technology."
Stack was irritated, but he couldn’t bring himself to hope that the car would be shown up by good ole yankee knowhow.
And if you are really lucky, Trooper, you might get to meet a mysterious horsed stranger who makes a Winchester ’73 out-perform any fancy, new-fangled weapon. I mean, what would a cowboy story be without him?
And for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, there are two more books to come. Book 3 has Elvis in it.