Writer John Shirley, called by William Gibson, "cyberpunk’s patient zero" is the author of the new novel Borderlands: The Fallen. This is a great matchup. John Shirley has written extreme science fiction, along with other genres, for over thirty years. His characters are usually placed in outrageous situations and must do extreme things to survive. This is in keeping with the video game, which is set on the death planet Pandora, home to Mad Max like mutants, alien artifacts and scheming corporate mercenaries.
The novel is called The Fallen because a father, mother and son (Zac, Marla and Cal Finn) all become stranded on Pandora from a passing spaceship. Zac, the father, who is not the best provider, is tricked into going, while Marla and Cal must evacuate in one-person lifeboats after their ship is sabotaged. They all crash on separate sites on the harsh planet below and must make hard choices about how to survive so they can be reunited.
Zac’s story is the least sympathetic. He’s portrayed as someone who has led his family into these desperate circumstances through his constant shortcuts in life. His greed leads to his becoming wrapped up in an interplanetary plot to find an ancient alien artifact. His growing awareness of his shortcomings leads to the novel’s resolution.
Marla’s story is the most desperate; where she must use her feminine wiles to gain any advantage she can when a roving gang captures her. She actually convinces one member of the gang, the dangerous and unpredictable Vance, to form an alliance with her. Her relationship with him is the most complicated part of the book. It goes beyond Stockholm syndrome and becomes something more of an uneasy partnership.
Cal ends up befriended by the soldier character from the game, Roland. In this tale, Roland is as capable as he is in the game, dispatching mutants and corrupt mercenaries with his military skills. John Shirley even uses Roland’s distinctive game voice for his character’s dialogue. Some of his catch phrases are worked in during the fight scenes. His subplot is the most straightforward of the three.
Borderlands: The Fallen revolves around humanity dealing with the technology of an extinct alien race. Like many modern science fiction games, Borderlands: The Fallen took the old school adventure plot of searching for a lost civilization and placed it in space to great effect.
So, if you want a Borderlands story that pushes characters to the absolute edge of acceptable lifeboat ethics, then pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed.