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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2012
For those not familiar with Shadowrun, you may not understand why this novella is such a big deal. Let me enlighten you.
Once upon a time, back in the 90's, Shadowrun was a pretty big deal in the fiction department. There were multiple releases each year. All told, Baen books released 40 novels between 1990 and 2001. For a series of novels based on a roleplaying game, that's amazing! And the fans were happy. We got a lot o great support for our favorite game.
When Shadowrun's original publisher FASA closed their doors, the game moved over to WizKids. They started out well, and cranked out six novels between 2005 and 2006. Flash forward, Shadowrun is now being managed by Catalyst Game Lab. The game has never been better, but we've only had a few small fiction releases, and none of them got much attention or traction. For all intents and purposes, the fiction line of Shadowrun has been stagnant, if not outright dead.
So to See Russ Zimmerman's new story "Neat" get released got a lot of old school Shadowrun readers pretty excited!

And the story lives up to all my hopes. Neat is written by someone who understands the Shadowrun universe. This isn't a generic pulp, noir, cyberpunk action story with some "Shadowrunny elements" bolted on. From start to finish this story immerses the reader in the rich, quirky environment of the Shadowrun world.
How you ask? By perfectly capturing the feel of the setting. Zimmerman has distilled more than 20 years of setting material into a tightly packed, fast-paced story that could only happen in Shadowrun.
Jimmy Kincaid is a character that could only exist in the Shadowrun universe. A Puyallup street kid who grew up to work for the private police force Lone Star. Kincaid used to be a powerful mage, but some minor cybernetic implants, abuse of mind-altering "Better-Than-Life" simsense chips, and having part of his soul devoured by a vampire have left his magic powers crippled, changing him into a down-on-his-luck private eye. Kincaid is the spiritual successor of Sam Spade, but with enough twists to make him uniquely a product of Shadowrun's year 2072.
Zimmerman knows his inspirational material well. Not just Shadowrun, but the noir detective stories as well. All the tropes are here. The femme fatale, the voiceover narration, the cynical worldview - Neat is filled with these, and they give the fiction a great flavor. Best of all, the characters of Neat aren't the cardboard cutouts you see in a lot of other gaming fiction. Kincaid makes some hard choices throughout the story - things that will affect him permanently. Even the supporting cast is well fleshed out. Skip & Trace were especially well done. A pair of bounty hunters, one a tough, hard hitting ork, the other a human hacker, the relationship between this unlikely pair of partners was a fun addition to the story.

In summary, I'm giving this novella five stars, and I want you to know that means something. I am a die hard Shadowrun fan from day one. It's not an exaggeration when I say that I own EVERYTHING that has ever been published for this game, including all the novels ever released. Neat sits alongside those stories with nothing to be ashamed of. Russell Zimmerman has crafted a tight, enjoyable tale that is the equal of any published Shadowrun fiction in the last 23 years. If you've been waiting for Shadowrun fiction to reappear, you will not be disappointed by Neat. I just hope we see more of Zimmerman's work, and more Shadowrun fiction from now on.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2012
Neat is the first novella or greater-length piece of standalone fiction set in the Shadowrun universe since the Spells & Chrome anthology more than two years ago, though there have been valuable "enhanced fiction" pieces published in the last year or so by Adam Large and Patrick Goodman. Both are excellent, but also contained "crunch" in the RPG parlance. Neat is pure fiction, and it is well worth the wait.

The story is compelling and draws on the classic Shadowrun ambience from two decades ago. The author, Russell Zimmerman, specializes in these types of street-level stories where the protagonists live and fight among the lowest of the low, but still carry themselves with a heroic stature even when they do horrible things or get the crap kicked out of them. Basically, this is a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett story set in Shadowrun circa 2073--a hard-boiled private detective relying on his knowledge and wits, not his action-hero disposition to kick ass and take names, who can and will take a beating in searching for a truth he seems intent on finding even when logic says to stay away. Of course, the intrigue and complex web of factions that Kincaid finds himself in the middle of is also pure hardboiled noir, but Zimmerman puts his own stamp on it with a master knowledge of the character and the universe in which it's set. Kincaid as the weary PI and Ariana as his loyal sidekick/protector/enforcer makes a classic pair, and again is a reminder than the genre was tackled with a familiarity of its tropes beyond simply checking a list; everything is done with precision and a workmanlike efficiency to tell an engrossing story that draws one in.

Zimmerman's skill at writing and the style he focuses on is clearly reminiscent of the standard-bearer of Shadowrun novels and fiction generally, Nigel Findley, and it would not be much of a stretch to suggest that he is a worthy successor to Mr. Findley's brilliance.

The story is only 100 pages and moves quickly, but one wonders how much more has been written about the character, who has appeared in shorter stories in recently-released sourcebooks. It is clear there is a longer, deeper story to tell of Kincaid's background and future. There is also an amusing cameo by a member of JackPoint that people who are familiar with the current Shadowrun universe might enjoy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2012
Neat by Russell Zimmerman is an excellent restart of stories set in the Shadowrun universe. The story grabbed me and just would not let me go until I finished the entire thing. The only thing I found myself wishing for was to spend a longer time in the cyber-fantasy-noir universe of Jim Kincaid and see even more delving into him and the lives and personalities of those around him.

Alas, it was not to be, but I greatly enjoyed my time spent there.

The perspective of the down and out PI also adds a great twist on how the antagonist is presented and how the world of Shadowrun is viewed. I would love a return to this character (in a longer format) and others within in later fiction. I'll be waiting patiently for more.

This novella is well worth the price tag and any fan of Shadowrun should pick it up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2012
This was my first taste of the Shadowrun universe. I gave it a try on a recommendation from a friend, and I have to say that it was a pleasure. Nice flavors of cyberpunk and fantasy noire. Zimmerman keeps the story moving but does so without creating a trope-fest. Several nice twists in the plot, and the dialogue was loads of fun. I'll be looking for more from these characters and from this author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 20, 2014
I'm new to Shadowrun, only recently coming off the exceptional RPG SHADOWRUN RETURNS with a kind of excitement for a pen and paper setting I haven't felt in years. Take NEUROMANCER, BLADE RUNNER, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and FORGOTTEN REALMS, mix vigorously, and you get Shadowrun, a kind of sci-fi/fantasy blend I never knew I wanted until now. Naturally, I went to see what kind of fiction was available, and was disappointed to see the series had hit a bit of a dry spell until recently, only releasing the newest stories in the form of short stories or ebook novellas. So, while I'm waiting for the old, out-of-print ROC novels to arrive, I downloaded NEAT, which seems to come just as recommended as Nigel Findley's novels these days -- and even for being a novella, I can see why.

Zimmerman has done a fantastic job of channeling the world of Shadowrun while creating a grittier, edgier tone for the series going forward. The story makes good use of its short page count, providing a hardboiled detective narrative, but never losing sight of the fact that it has to be a Shadowrun story first, a detective story second. Zimmerman is obviously someone who knows the setting very well, and I don't think a single page went by that didn't evoke the setting in some way.

But if I had some criticisms, I would have to agree with a few other reviewers who state that everything wraps up a little too nicely. It's a more-than-common occurrence in detective stories, and NEAT is not the exception. Additionally, none of the characters really speak with the vernacular that seems to be common throughout Shadowrun stories; whether this was intentional or not, the little colloquialisms were always a charming part of the setting for me, and they were sorely missed.

All in all, NEAT is a fun, albeit brief, Shadowrun story that's surely worthy of being counted among the best. Most of the stories I've read so far either get the setting right or make the plot interesting, but never really accomplish both. Shadowrun seems to be making a bit of a comeback in recent years, and I really hope Zimmerman sticks around to help bring the setting back to fighting strength.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2013
This book was awesome. I don't know why TOR hasn't contacted the author yet to set him up with a series of Shadowrun books about this lead character. If you only read one book this summer, you are not reading enough books! Read this book and lose yourself in the excitement of the setting. Especially recommended for all of you NetRunner players out there. Download it and make sure you tell all of your friends to read it too. Well-written and just a little smirky.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2013
I held off picking this up for months for a variety of reasons. I'm busy. I'm not a huge fan of ebooks. The recent Shadowrun sourcebooks haven't thrilled me. The (relatively) recent Shadowrun fiction really hasn't thrilled me. It's cheap but the value seemed suspect ($3...for ~67 pages; at that price per page, a 250 page novel would run me over $11). Etc., etc. All that to say that I wasn't optimistic about this when I finally did get around to picking it up.

That being said, let me be clear: this is the best stand-alone Shadowrun fiction that I've seen in years.

The author clearly knows the universe. Unlike some of the other stories out there, you won't find any magical or technological macguffins that drive the story at the expense of the setting. The writer is clearly "one of us" in the sense that he is deeply invested in the Shadowrun universe, as opposed to having skimmed a setting guide with the intention of collecting a paycheck. When I finished reading it, my first reaction was that I wanted to play that story as an adventure.

The author clearly loves the universe. The sense that the author had fun writing this is palpable throughout the book. I already mentioned that the author's demonstrated knowledge goes well beyond the norm, but his enthusiasm for the setting actually comes through in his writing. In some respects, this is like a love letter to the setting itself. someone competent.

The story is actually "mainstream" Shadowrun. Yes, I realize this will vary according to taste and experience, but this is a tale that's actually grounded between "street level" and "elite shadowrunner," and as a result we get a lovely look at the dystopia we all know and love. A fewer higher-level folk get honorable mentions or wander through the background like a Hitchcock cameo, but the story itself if gloriously mainstream as opposed to relying on fringe plotpoints.

The writing quality is actually good. Seriously. I didn't get derailed by any obvious grammatical or typographical issues. It's better than the other ebooks I've seen, and (I don't say this to be mean), it's better than some of the Catalyst stuff that was coming out for a while there. That's actually intended as a compliment; this book comes across as an example of the line offerings getting better. That's encouraging.

The story itself is actually good. I already mentioned that I wanted to play the thing. But beyond that it's actually structured well. The structure isn't particularly fancy, and it's clearly intended to be derivative of classic noir, but it's done well. Really well.

At the end of the day, I vote with my wallet, so let me just put it this way: at this price point and quality, I would buy as many of these as the author cares to produce. So yeah...two thumbs up, five stars, A+, whatever metric you want to use, this pegs the needle at the high end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2012
Shadowrun novels have come a long way since Jordan Weisman edited the original collection of Shadowrun short stories "Into the Shadows." They've ranged the gamut from excellent, to trash, and for many a year, Shadowrun novels simply weren't being published at all. So now we have a novella that hearkens back to an era of excellence with gritty on-the-street Shadowrun atmosphere, and does so with style. Even if you're not already a fan of the Shadowrun universe, this novella will win you over, and you should let it. Action, crime, magic, eastern (yakuza) and western mafia, intrigue, and a dynamic cast of male and female protagonists that you'll want to read about more, make Shadowrun: Neat a must buy. Give it a shot, it's pretty 'Neat' and then tell your friends the way I'm telling you. I don't know the author personally, but I sincerely hope he keeps at it, and gives us a full length novel next time around. Thanks Mr. Zimmerman, for a read that I couldn't put down until - the end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2012
At last, a new Shadowrun book. A great new addition to a fine series of books, of which I own every single one. Neat delivers a much needed shot of life back into the reawakened world.

My only complaint is that now I've got a reawakened hunger for more Shadowrun, and there's nothing out there. I would have been happier if it had a thousand or so more pages to it :P
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2012
"Neat" confirms that great stories can be told in short form. Zimmerman does a masterful job of providing precisely the right amount of characterization and atmosphere to create an engaging narrative. The story itself is straight up hard-boiled noir, but is invigorated with the intriguing world of Shadowrun. By the end of the story, I was left wanting more. More Kincaid, more stories by Zimmerman, and more Shadowrun.
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