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Literature / BioShock: Rapture

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BioShock: Rapture is a tie-in Prequel to the video games BioShock and BioShock 2. It was written by John Shirley and released by Tor Books.

The novel goes into detail about the numerous events mentioned in the games' Apocalyptic Logs. After World War II, billionaire tycoon Andrew Ryan designs the underwater city of Rapture to escape; not just from the looming threat of atomic devastation, but from the control of those he percieves as parasites who unjustly steal the profits of the working man (while, at the same time, denouncing the protests of workers' unions as "leeches" demanding a handout). Seeking to prove his personal values effective, Ryan invites the best and brightest from various fields to live with him in this underwater utopia—chief among them Bill McDonagh, a former low-rent plumber who was elevated to Ryan's chief building engineer when the latter was impressed with his work ethic.

At first, things in Rapture seem to be going exactly as Ryan envisioned—a society free of taxes, with artists and scientists alike able to pursue their research without having to deal with the constraints of government. But several problems soon arise: an increase in population leads to a need for more housing; when a less educated group of people are brought in to build new housing, they soon find themselves unable to find more work and are thus left to fend for themselves. This creates a large underclass, many of whom are desperate to make ends meet—desperate enough, even, to join the underground smuggling ring which imports forbidden items from the surface world. Resources run short when the initial residents do not feel like being totally self-sufficent. A lack of regulation on industrial process causes chemical leaks which slowly compromise Rapture's structural integrity.

As civil unrest grows in the midst of all of these circumstances, the situation is made worse with the discovery and widespread distribution of ADAM, a genetic modifier which grants its users extraordinary powers, but at the price of addiction and mutation.

Eventually Rapture erupts into civil war, and the city falls apart until it reaches the shattered condition in which the player will later discover it. The book follows this decline into anarchy, told from several perspectives along the way: Bill McDonagh, as he watches the utopia he helped build lose its way; Frank Fontaine, cutthroat gangster who seeks to exploit Rapture's secrets for his own criminal gain; Chief Sullivan, the beleagured head of Rapture's security as he tries to keep doing his job in an increasingly-deranged environment; Bridget Tenebaum, the brilliant-yet-troubled scientist who discovered ADAM in the first place and later comes to regret her actions; and Andrew Ryan himself, as he stubbornly clings to his beliefs even as it becomes clear that they are flawed, and causing Rapture to steadily collapse...

This novel has examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Dr. Sofia Lamb, the Big Bad of BioShock 2, is depicted here as showing a greater degree of empathy towards her followers compared to her more detached attitude in the game to come.
  • All Myths Are True: During a meeting of Rapture's council, one of the experts suggests that the reason Plasmids work is because they're unlocking long-dormant genes that gave humans similar abilities in the past, thus explaining the legends of things like genies and magicians.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Sander Cohen's possible homosexuality is alluded to several times throughout the book—his lavish praise and description of his male proteges, his rather dismissive opinion of Jasmine Jolene, and the whole Does This Remind You of Anything? situation below all point to this being the case.
  • Apocalyptic Log: We find out it was Ryan who persuaded everyone to keep recording audio dairies, so that generations would see how awesome Rapture was and would end up becoming.
    • In a sense, the novel itself could be one for the story of Rapture.
  • Ascended Extra: Bill McDonagh, a secondary Posthumous Character from the first game's diaries, who is as close to a hero as the book gets.
    • Roland Wallace, who makes a brief appearance in an audio diary during the first game, has more appearances in the book, being a member of Rapture's maintenance crew alongside Bill.
    • During the first game, Anton Kincaide is mentioned to be the creator of the Rapture Metro in a loading screen. Here, he receives far more characterization, including a role on Rapture's Council and further insight into aspects of his personality.
  • Asshole Victim: The book has a few over the course of its run. A few notable examples include:
    • The cutthroat owner of a grocery store drives a rival grocer out of business by buying the local trash collection outfit and price-gouging the rival for far more than he can afford (causing the garbage to rot and drive away customers), gloating about it when Ryan refuses to help. It's hard to pity him when said rival takes a gun and shoots him.
    • Greavy, one of Rapture's city council, speaks quite dismissively of the misfortunes of the working class who are suffering in Rapture. He's practically asking for death from Splicers, which is exactly what happens.
    • Cavendish, a Dirty Cop of the highest order, gets gunned down by fellow officer Karlosky.
  • Ate His Gun: In the aforementioned grocery store incident, the victimized store owner turns the gun on himself after shooting the rival who ruined his business. Later, it's implied that Sullivan does the same thing after killing Anna Culpepper.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bill tries to escape and fails, resulting in his execution, but his wife and daughter make it to the surface to live a happy life.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Implied In the last meeting between Fontaine and Ryan, as Fontaine subtly tells Ryan to stay out of his way, or he'll make him and Ryan knows exactly what's going on.
  • Body Horror: Attention is called to the deformities that Splicers suffer from, along with the destructive effects that Plasmids cause when used on their victims. And that's not counting the experimental subjects that Plasmids were tested out on, of which special mention goes to the... thing in the Special Studies room. Even the normally unflappable Fontaine is horrified by this monstrosity and orders Suchong and Tannenbaum to not only kill it, but incinerate the entire room.
    Clinging to the walls opposite Fontaine was something that might've once been human. It was as if someone had taken human flesh and made it as malleable as clay—bones and flesh made pliable—and plastered it onto the wall.
  • Brains and Bondage: Humorously revealed as the case with Tenenbaum after it was shown Tenenbaum and Fontaine entered a romantic relationship with each other after their partnership. Tenenbaum is revealed to be a masochist who does not like to be touched but still wants to be touched, dreaming of a man who can take her forcibly during the act. She was only being able to copulate with Fontaine if she offered some resistance while wearing a blindfold during the act.
  • Broken Pedestal: Andrew Ryan becomes this to Bill McDonagh by the novel's climax, as he steadily becomes the same kind of corrupt totalitarian leader that he built Rapture to escape. However, Bill still can't bring himself to shoot his former benefactor in the end. It comes back to bite him.
  • Call-Forward: Pretty much every character except Andrew Ryan makes a comment about some flaw in Rapture that will eventually make it the mess Jack finds it to be in by the time of the game.
    • When Bill McDonagh first meets Sander Cohen, Cohen invites Ryan to a gallery show specializing in tableau vivant art that he is holding in Greenwich Village. This, perhaps, is the precursor to the host of plaster-coated corpses that the player later finds in Fort Frolic.
    • One of Gorland's former aliases is "Wang", referencing Fontaine's late-game boast that he "was even a Chinaman for six months".
    • When discussing the potential of subliminal brainwashing and hypnotic commands, Fontaine asks Dr. Suchong if it would be possible to command a kid to snap his beloved puppy's neck. In one of the audio logs in the game, you learn that yes, Suchong was able to do just that.
    • In the novel's climax, Bill's family is menaced by a member of the Saturnine cult that's popped up in Arcadia—the initial Houdini Splicers that the player will face in the first game.
    • We see Sofia Lamb's rise to power as she takes control of Persephone.
  • Canon Foreigner: Elaine and Sophie McDonagh have no counterpart in the games, presumably so that the reader will have at least a couple of major characters in the book whose fate is genuinely uncertain.
    • Constables Cavendish, Redgrave, and Harker do not appear in the games. Similarly, Ryan's Russian bodyguard Karlosky has no in-game counterpart.
  • Cassandra Truth: At the novel's conclusion, Elaine takes her daughter to see a doctor in New York City, the girl gushing on how amazing the surface world is compared to her childhood growing up in an advanced city on the bottom of the ocean. The doctor simply chuckles at what an imagination the girl has as Elaine smiles.
  • Child Hater: Suchong makes his distaste for children readily apparent. This hatred stems from his childhood experiences as the son of a poor servant, as he was bullied by the children of the wealthy man his family served.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Andrew Ryan, whose views of altruism and workers' benefits are colored by his memories of his uncle and aunt being mercilessly gunned down by the Red Guard while trying to flee Russia; he attributes their deaths to the October Revolution and all of its "parasites".
    • Frank Fontaine also gets hints of this. What glimpses we get into his past suggest that he grew up in an Orphanage of Fear, then had to scrape and struggle while living on the streets as a kid. With a hard childhood like that, it's small wonder he grew up into a ruthless con man.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Frank the conman kills the real Frank Fontaine so he can steal his identity and fishing business, which he uses to get into Rapture.
  • Decoy Leader: Frank gets Steinman to make one of his henchmen to look like him so he will take the bullet in the upcoming raid and Frank can go underground as Atlas.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Andrew Ryan, full stop. He recruits people to a new underwater city, actively plans for it to be a dog-eat-dog society where only the strongest and most ruthless will prosper, forbids anyone to leave for any reason, yet seems totally unprepared for the possibility that some (or most) will fail, become de facto prisoners of Rapture, feel resentful and eventually rebel.
  • Dirty Cop: Cavendish, who is implied to have started the process of kidnapping the children of lower-class people to turn into Little Sisters. Sullivan characterizes Cavendish as one of the "bad eggs" that beats prisoners.
    • Sullivan himself becomes this, as he extrajudicially murders Anna Culpepper by drowning her late into the book. It’s implied that he later commits suicide out of guilt.
    • The Rapture Constabulary can be considered this in general. Sullivan tells Ryan that the constables would likely arrest anyone Ryan told them to, contravening Rapture's ideals of ultimate freedom. Later in the book, a constable is mentioned to have sold a wounded splicer to Dr. Steinman for his cruel, ADAM-crazed experiments.
    • In a different vein, it’s mentioned that a group of constables betrayed Andrew Ryan by aiding Atlas and his followers in attacking the upper-class New Year's party at the Kashmir Restaurant. Constable Cavendish is mentioned to have shot these traitorous officers.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Martin Finnegan's first Plasmid-injecting experience, courtesy of Sander Cohen.
  • Doomed by Canon: Every character except Elaine and Sophie McDonagh.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mariska and Samuel Lutz after seeing their daughter as a Little Sister via overdose, along with Sullivan who shoots himself over the guilt of killing Anna Culpepper.
    • Likewise the shopkeeper who has his business being run into the ground by a rival who also owns the trash collection company and thus refuses to pick up the trash from the former's store to drive him out of business. When Ryan refuses to help, the disillusioned shopkeeper shoots the rival, then turns the gun on himself.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Several.
    • Andrew Ryan is first introduced railing against miners on strike, then expressing his dread over the looming threat of atomic devastation.
    • Bill McDonagh morosely considers his poor lot in life, but encourages himself to carry on nonetheless as he enters Andrew Ryan's apartment to fix the plumbing.
    • Chief Sullivan enters Ryan's office after a long day, and just wants a drink and the chance to put his feet up; but nonetheless delivers his report to "the Great Man" (his private term for Andrew Ryan, which he himself uses half-seriously, half in jest).
    • Frank Fontaine is conning a guy out of his business while using an alias.
    • Sander Cohen is starring in a show of questionable quality, and is described as craving the spotlight whenever he can get it.
    • Sofia Lamb dispassionately asks some piercing questions about Rapture to Andrew Ryan.
    • Tenenbaum approaches the fisheries for lab specimens while recalling how her last job ended when she performed an injection on a man's more delicate region.
    • Dr. Steinman absently reflects on how he "hears the voice of Aphrodite" while considering his latest plastic surgery, wishing he could operate further to satisfy his sense of perfectionist aesthetics.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Fontaine is at first genuinely creeped out and physically sickened by the methods Suchong and Tenenbaum come up with for producing more ADAM. He gets over it when he realizes how much money can be made, however.
    • During their conversation in Ryan's office, Fontaine is very offended when Ryan implies that perhaps the reason he's set up the orphanages around Rapture and pays the girls much more attention than the boys is because he's sexually abusing them. He quickly snaps at him and says that he only likes fully-grown women.
    • Ryan is faintly appalled by the tactics a grocery store owner uses to drive his competitor out of business (gaining a monopoly on trash collection in the area, then price gouging his competitor for far more than he can afford, causing the trash to rot outside the guy's store). But he's not willing to do anything about it - that's not The Rapture Way, after all.
  • Eye Scream: Poor Blinky—at least, that's what Sander Cohen calls him, while putting out a cigar in his eye...
  • Exact Words: When Karlosky catches Bill and his family trying to escape Rapture, Bill asks if his orders are to capture and kill everyone or just Bill. Karlosky eventually agrees to let Bill's family leave, but he can't do the same for Bill.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Bill McDonagh smiles as he's shot point-blank.
  • The Fettered: Bill throughout the book. He sees everything going wrong, but can't bring himself to turn against Andrew Ryan—partly out of loyalty to the man who gave him a chance, and mostly out of concern for what'll happen to his family if he's arrested.
  • First Time in the Sun: Sophie McDonagh.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Rapture is not going to last. It even says so on the back of the book.
  • Foreshadowing: A lot of it is to later events in the story as well as the games
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The narrative switches between Andrew Ryan, Bill McDonagh, Frank Fontaine, Sander Cohen, Brigid Tenenbaum, Sofia Lamb, Sander Cohen, Dr. Steinman, Sullivan, and occasionally minor characters.
  • Gilligan Cut: When hearing about an emergency involving sabotage, Andrew Ryan guesses that Bill is already dealing with it. Cut to Bill (knee-deep in water) wondering how on earth he's going to deal with the emergency.
  • Guns Akimbo: Frank Fontaine's Body Double goes down in a raid organized by Andrew Ryan with a gun on each hand.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Poor Diane, courtesy of Frank Fontaine when she discovers his secret identity.
  • Harmless Freezing: Averted when Martin Finnegan uses his freezing Plasmid. Attention is called to the way the victims' throats lock up, and their eye sockets are packed with ice.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Bill McDonagh, upon meeting the flamboyant Sander Cohen, regards him in his inner monologue as a "queer sort of duck". Definitely intentional, as Cohen turns out to be exactly what he appears to modern audiences.
  • Healing Factor: The Little Sisters. Indeed, a direct infusion of ADAM seems to induce this in someone who's badly injured; Bill considers finding some for Greavy when the latter is mortally wounded.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Bill at end, asking that his wife and daughter go free since Ryan only ordered for him to be arrested.
  • Honor Before Reason: As Rapture begins to turn into a dictatorship, Bill McDonagh admits what's happening, but can't bring himself to abandon Andrew Ryan. It doesn't last forever, though, and he finally decides to try and escape with his family.
  • Hypocrite: Andrew Ryan's hypocrisy grows throughout the story. Even at the very start it’s revealed that Ryan founded his empire on oil which he discovered purely by luck, even though he’s so insistent on self-sufficiency. He abhors taxes, but puts a surcharge on the oxygen produced by his park when he needs to build more capital to compete with Frank Fontaine's rising business. He takes over Fontaine Fisheries by force. In the later stages of the book he’s even using black market goods like pork and smoking cigars.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Said throughout the book, mostly by Karlosky but also by Sullivan and Bill.
  • Informed Ability: In-universe, Sander Cohen. Andrew Ryan loves Cohen's work and considers him a fellow genius and kindred spirit, yet everyone else considers him a mediocre talent at best, actively annoying and/or creepy at worst.
  • Mercy Kill: In a way. After he's captured, it was ordered that Bill be pinned to a wall first then killed. However, Karlosky decides to give Bill a quick death out of respect for their friendship.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Security chief Sullivan goes through this after Ryan orders him to drown dissenter Anna Culpepper in her bathtub. He kills himself shortly after he confesses to Bill.
    • We see the start of Tenenbaum's attempt to redeem herself when she rescues several Little Sisters and hides them away.
  • Mythology Gag: In a meta sense. Fontaine has a Plasmid that allows teleportation, but pulls it from the market because it makes its users more unstable than the rest. There WAS going to be a Teleportation Plasmid in the game, but it was cut for scripting purposes.
  • One-Steve Limit: If Sophie and Sofia are close enough to qualify as the same name, the book defies this trope by introducing Bill McDonagh's daughter.
  • Only Sane Man: Bill McDonagh, the closest thing this book has to a protagonist. Especially apparent when all the other characters start going from deluded to insane. Even moreso his wife Elaine, who points out problems with Rapture right at the beginning.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • The FBI and OSS, despite spending years and a lot of effort trying to learn about Andrew Ryan's secret project, never found out. It speaks volumes of their apparent incompetence when Frank managed to find out that Ryan was building a city beneath the sea while prentending to be a Federal Agent, while neither of the real agents ever did. For that matter, Agent Voss, despite knowing that Frank had a murky past, went to the latter in the hopes that he would help him.
    • The constables are a downplayed example. At the beginning, they were very competent, but as the years went by, and both corruption in Rapture and Ryan's paranoia grew, they slowly went from being keepers of order to becoming Ryan's private army. Around two thirds of the story, some of them even started kidnapping children under Ryan's orders in order for them to become new Little Sisters, and others were being bribed by either Fontaine or Cohen.
  • Prison Riot: Sofia's takeover of Persephone.
  • Pun:
    Andrew Ryan: I'm going to show you a marvel taking shape southwest of Iceland. And I promise you that you will be...enraptured.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: During Ryan and Fontaine's meeting
    Fontaine: What I'm here for really is to tell you that if you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone. All that recruiting you're guessing about won't come and bite you in the ass. If. You Back. The fuck. Off!
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Not only do some characters have a few "um"s and pauses in their sentences, but its revealed that most of the characters except Andrew Ryan have a few lines that like to throw out. Some of the audiodiaries are revealed to be polished performances of previous conversation (the characters side of it anyway) and stories they frequently tell. A few characters "quote" single sentences either from the their own diaries or even monologues in the games, implying they have a few practiced lines they like to throw out when appropriate. For example: Sophia Lamb tells Ryan upon first coming to Rapture: "Were the modern world a patient in my care, I would diagnose it suicidal," which she chronologically uses later in a tape meant for Eleanor.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Fontaine discovers through Tenenbaum and Suchong that more ADAM can be made by implanting the slug that produces the substance into little girls. Faced with the obvious hurdle of finding girls to host the slug, he sarcastically asks if they can order them from a catalog. Suchong doesn’t pick up on the sarcasm, and remarks that he hasn’t heard of any such catalog.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Andrew Ryan eventually feels that only other people have to follow the rules of Rapture.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Diane McClintock and Bill McDonagh both decide to go against Andrew Ryan because their consciences tell them to.
  • Start of Darkness: For Rapture itself, and debatably Andrew Ryan.
    • For Ryan, it could also be him witnessing his uncle getting murdered by Bolsheviks.
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: As they are flying across the North Atlantic, Ryan reveals his project of building a city under the sea to McDonagh by showing him a model of it.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Bill to Elaine as more splicers start showing up in the city. It comes in handy during the infamous New Years Eve party.
  • Villainous Friendship: The book reveals that Dr. Steinman and Sander Cohen were quite chummy.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: Karlosky, who is always eager for a drink, but sober when on duty.
  • With Due Respect: Bill to Ryan near the end. It's a mark of how unstable Ryan has become since the beginning, where he openly invited Bill to criticize him.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Ryan's, and, ironically, Fontaine's, entire reasoning throughout the entire book.
    • Fontaine, at least, is pretty certain from the beginning that Rapture is going to collapse. However, he sees a mighty profit to be made in said collapse, if he plays his cards right.