I find it always much harder to praise something, than to pin down when something doesn’t work. 2XS is one of those, one of the few novels I read more than once or twice in my life, which is exceedingly rare. It’s a sort of hard-boiled detective fiction set in the shadowrun universe by author Nigel Findley. And since it’s sitting at the crossroads of nostalgia, a highly addictive setting and detective fiction, I’m not always sure what element exactly makes me like it so much.
On a recent re-read I realized that the main character is actually less hard-boiled and more soft-boiled than I remembered him. He’s not weak, but he has a tendency to overanalyze his emotional landscape and the people around him, mostly seeing the pain, loss and misery. Normally I would dismiss him as emo, get annoyed with his weakness, but his personal voyage seems to hit so many notes that reminded me of myself at various phases in life, that despite his emo-ness I can empathize and even channel my own inner emo (though most of the time I try to kill that sucker).
There’s an authenticity to Findley’s description of Dirk Montgomery that smells of the real thing, as if he had imbued the character with a little more of his own self than he planned to do. I’ve read other novels by Findley and while most of them are good fare, none of them have the same effect.
Though, it’s not just the characterization I like. Findley had the whole feel and look of the shadowrun universe pinned down. A short remark about something awakened crawling out of a lake, the succinct and yet textured descriptions of the surroundings, Findley didn’t just reproduce the setting with words, he gave it life (not for nothing he wrote some of the best early rule books for the shadowrun RPG).
Also, he was one of the few writers who managed the balance act between technology and magic. 2XS took one element (the BTL-concept), infused it with some clever speculations about the next development stage, ideas you could have found in any hard SF novel, and then fused it with a magic-related plotline to make it all work marvelously. Most shadowrun writers handled all the advanced tech more like fixed, unchanging gadgets, than actually thinking about the technology itself, how it actually worked and what would come next.
I’ve read 2XS the first time when I was, I think, 15 or 16 and was blown away. Now nearly two decades later, I’m still feeling the same way. The book sucks me in and doesn’t let me go. Actually, I think I like the book even more, after having lived a bit and seeing how I can relate even more.