I like clever ideas, but they can be difficult to execute. Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero caught my attention because it was a book with a soundtrack. The collection of short stories is accompanied by an album with tracks that coincide with each story. (I’m going to just assume people still use the word “album.”) Each story also leads off with a black and white illustration. That means that between authors, musicians, and illustrators there are quite a few names associated with this project and, collectively, they execute this clever idea well.
Some of those names will certainly be familiar to folks in various circles, gaming circles among them. Jeff LaSala, who edited the collection, wrote The Darkwood Mask, an Eberron novel for Wizards of the Coast, as well as a number of other short works (including a great many contributions to Dungeons & Dragons Insider). Keith Baker, creator of Eberron and a more than a few sourcebooks for the setting, contributes a story to the collection as does Ed Greenwood. If you play D&D and don’t know who Ed is, go Google him; it’s ok, I’ll wait…
Obviously, these are the names that immediately jumped out at me. But there are plenty more great writers among the nineteen stories, each bringing their own vision to the dystopian, near-future setting that is Foreshadows’ shared world. And while it is to be expected that some stories will resonate more with a reader, whether it is a particular author’s style or simply the plot chosen, that’s to be expected when you have a range of authors side by side. Put average writing next to exceptional writing and you can’t help but notice. That said, however, I was entertained throughout the entirety of the book.
The world of Foreshadows steadily becomes a character in its own right and, for readers like me who can embrace a setting as much as a protagonist (or antagonist), there’s a real pleasure in unearthing another piece of the place with each story. As a cyberpunk setting, it clearly has certain expectations to meet (cybernetic body modification, immersive VR technology, AI’s and robotic constructs) and Foreshadows meets them, at times in obvious ways, but sometimes it forges ahead in unanticipated directions and presents something new.
Thematically, it also ranges over a great deal of ground. The stories explore the impact of technology as it races ahead of our own humanity and what that means for morality, spirituality, and our shared experiences and very nature. In some ways, there is more Frankenstein than Neuromancer here. And, rather than the typical atheistic future we’ve grown accustomed to in the genre, the book draws on several theologies (and mythologies) as it unfolds. Remove (most of) the fantasy elements of the Shadowrun setting and the place becomes eerily familiar (but in a good way). Without a doubt, the setting certainly lends itself to further exploration.
Not being a music critic, other than knowing what I like, I can’t point to one thing or another in the music and offer much in the way of constructive input or know “what the kids are calling it.” It’s a futuristic-sounding collection of predominantly instrumental synthesizer tracks. (Yes, I said “future-sounding.” If you’ll notice, I just pointed out that I’m not remotely a music critic.) I will say they would make excellent background tracks to a gaming session, especially in the same cyberpunk future that the book itself offers. At times I found the music immersed me in the “feel” of a story faster than I read the words on the page. But, at other times, I would be so drawn into a particular story that I failed to even register the music.
Reading something tied to its own music was definitely a different experience and, overall, I would say it was a positive one. Of course, I’m the sort of person who enjoys background music while reading (and writing) rather than someone who finds it distracting. But the book provides no “listening guide” or “rules” for the accompanying music, other than to assign a track to each story. A reader is clearly intended to find his or her own way and I like that because then it doesn’t infringe on how you read your books.
For more about Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero you can check out the book’s website. You can pick up a digital copy at BAEN here. or you can get a print copy (and accompanying CD) from the Very Us Artists store here. For fans of the genre, and particularly gamer-readers within the genre, I recommend checking it out.