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June 23, 2013 / schulerbooks

Vaporware, by Richard Dansky

9781936564774

Her name is Blue Lightning, and she was going to be a star.

For quite some time, Ryan Colter — the Creative Director at a small videogame development company — was overseeing her creation. He was the one who thought her up, and then stood up on high and watched every piece of her come together over. He tested her, tweaked her, broke her and put her back together again — day after day, demo after demo, paying more attention to her than he did to his long-suffering, corporate-climbing fiancee and their life plans together.

Blue Lightning was going to be perfect when she was done.

But then word came from the game’s publisher that they were done with her. They gave no real and substantial reasons — just a curt email to the boss about a lack of confidence, no real promise of a kill fee to the company, and contract for newer title that needed porting over to an older system.

Which means that, as CD, Ryan has back up his boss when that man tells everyone what’s happened. He also has to try and convince his troops that, yes, it stinks, but that’s what happens in this business. Games get killed all the time, and when they do you take a deep breath, smile, dump all the artifacts into a locked case, and go on to the next one.

But when you’ve put your heart and soul into something as wholly and completely as Ryan has, this time, it isn’t always so easy to let it go.

And sometimes, it won’t let you go, either, which is why Ryan starts to be electronically haunted by his abandoned creation.

First she’s messing with his music when he’s driving in his car. Then she’s playing havoc with his phones when he tries to call his girlfriend and tell her he’s going to be late. And then she’s crawling out of his monitor — somewhere between Lara Croft and the girl from The Ring — and asking him to love her as much as she loves him.

A rational sort of fellow, Ryan’s willing to chalk all this up to overwork. Only he’s not the only one who’s seen this e-specter. In fact, she’s herself a number of admirers, all of whom are working away at a “black project” on the company’s time, trying to complete her game. Maybe if they can finish her, they can have her all to themselves.

And maybe if Ryan helps, she can love him the way he wants to be loved — in a way that his non-creative fiance can’t, and his ex-girlfriend (and current coworker) never could…

What happens next is the subject of this deliciously-slow and quite creepy fable about the personal price of creativity, reminiscent of M.R. James, Frankenstein, and “Fatal Attraction.” A long-time veteran of many creative corporate environments (RPGs and video games, especially), Dansky is uniquely-qualified to tell a tale about what happens when the different aspects of one’s life get badly out of balance with one another.

(It is also an intriguing look at how videogames are made — or not — with inside stories that, I am duly informed, are the ones we can only barely believe, as opposed to the ones we’d swear were made up for shock value.)

That said, while Vaporware is a good read, one feels it is not as good as it could have been. It has a problem with focus at times, and while one comes to understand that the personal and professional have created the supernatural, a little more of the latter one and less of the former two might have made this work better. That said — as the masterful Firefly Rain showed us — Dansky knows how to build dread, drop the climax, and write an ending that, while it might not be happy, is exactly what this book, and its main character, truly need and deserve.

In regards to other critiques this unique work has received, I think this is a case where the cover of the book (and some of its reviews) have done its contents a massive disservice. Readers expecting crackling blue breasts, constant jump-shocks, and spurting, red blood are going to be very disappointed, because Richard Dansky doesn’t write those kinds of books. His scares are more surgical, requiring some work on the reader’s behalf to think on what’s been read, and the true meaning behind it.

Indeed, while Blue Lightning can be an outright terrifying presence, the real horror of this book is watching Ryan’s life fall apart one bad and broken keystroke at a time.  This fact is subtly manifested in the crackling and taut denouement, though some may miss it in expectation of a bodycount.

Vaporware is available now, and can be found on our shelves.

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood.

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