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Book Review - the Forever Drug - a Shadowrun Novel by Lisa Smedman

I'm an Air Force veteran who was stationed in Guam at one point.


I have not read a Shadowrun novel in over 15 years. I noticed some books from this series start to show up in thrift stores, so I bought a few. Over the course of a couple weeks I finished The Forever Drug by Lisa Smedman. I was pleasantly surprised with such a random book to pull from a shelf.

Shadowrun is a cyberpunk futuristic fantasy setting. Where magic has returned to the world at the same time that the world fractures into new countries. Corporations take over the world, ushering in a dystopian tech-centered reality. People wander the streets looking for jobs as "Shadowrunners", tap into the matrix and hack as "Deckers'' and soldiers for corps and the "Lone Star police force". It was a setting used for a tabletop RPG many years ago, that has morphed into video games, books and inspired a few movies (Johnny Mnemonic for example).

I have always loved the gritty, weird world of Shadowrun since I was a teenager and a group of nerds introduced it to me. It's a world with laser swords and dragons and neon colors. I was hooked after the first gaming session, where my friends and I failed at rescuing someone with an ambulance. We ditched the body and fought the police with laser weapons as they were chasing us in hover copters.

This book follows the story of a "shifter" named Romulus. He is a parahuman that can change from wolf to human and back. He works for the Lone Star Police Force as a temp worker, catching magical animals (mostly cats). He seems to prefer his wolf side and does not seem to fit in human society. He is ridiculed and abused often by humans for being different. One of my first gripes with this book is that there is no reason that Romulus should even be in human society, when he seems to have no reason to not stay exclusively wolf. He has no real motivating factor to continue to live in the city and not just live in the wild. A few times he tries to say his work is his "pack" and he is looking for approval from his sargent. Although, he is not really employed and only an "irregular asset" because he is “Sinless” meaning “not a registered citizen”. Only one person seems to be nice to him at his work. A woman named Dass. She does not end up being a very good friend in the end. So, his work does not leave Romulus any real reason to work there, and his pay is bad too.

I get what the author was shooting for with Romulus, when it comes to explaining his life as a part dog parahuman. Although, some of the sexual details from a dog’s perspective is a little off putting. The mentions of peeing on random things and leaving his scent on places is fun, but the pheromones stuff is very strange. There is a couple paragraphs that go into graphic detail about dog sex. It reminds me of the book Interview with a Vampire, where Anne Rice wrote a book off the idea “What would it be like to be a vampire?”. This book is written like “What would it be like to be a dog”? The situations that Romulus gets in after shifting, and loses his clothes, are some of my favorite parts of the book. He comically has to steal clothes or evade the eyes of people while he runs around naked.

His love interest is the mystery woman Jane. Which is odd and out of place. I have always hated stories where people fall madly in love the second they meet someone, It never seems believable and takes me out of the fantasy. If anything, his fawning over a girl he knows nothing about, is a warning to ignore primal urges and use your head. She does nothing but get him into trouble and never reciprocates his feelings. Jane is also the most personality void character, which is sad because her background is interesting and the driving storyline.

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The hook of the book’s title is that this is about a drug that gets you high and then kills you. There are multiple drugs in this book and the focus of the story changes to a different one as the story goes on. The real story is about a mystery girl with amnesia, it should have been called something else. The drug at the start of the book may have been the beginning driving factor of this story, but then the writer had to go deeper to expand the text length beyond a short story to a novel and trailed off (sometimes erratically) into other plots.

I really like the weird connection to magic Canadian native americans and historical Shadowrun timelines that were explained in this book. There were a lot of fun fusions of Shadowrun ideas. It also felt like there was a good portion of fluff. Characters that spent many pages building up, that did not end up doing much or contributing to a coherent story. Where did the Dwarf go after he left Romulus? What happened to the old man in the wizard tower? What happened to the elf? I think there are a lot of loose ends that didn’t get tied.

Overall, I liked this book but I didn’t love it. The main character was very well developed if not a little creepy and awkward. Motivation was lacking to push the story along, but did it’s job if you filled in the gaps with your own imagination. It was always “I have to find Jane”, while the reader asks “why?”. It kind of reminded me of Finn from the new Disney Star Wars, like why was he always chasing Rey? Some of the secondary characters were interesting but not well used. The mystery girl Jane was unlikable garbage. The story was good, just disjointed and unended in parts. Lots of great Shadowrun inspired situations and settings, which is what you would hope to expect at minimum. I remember some sci-fi books from the 90’s being much worse than this, so I was surprised at what it was and I felt it wasn’t a complete waste of time to read. I wouldn’t pick it up for more than $0.50 at a thrift store though.

© 2020 Ian McGonigal

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