Gunlaw by Nicholas Stillman
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
Gunlaw is Nicholas Stillman’s well-written entry for the 2013 Windhammer Prize. It’s a modern day cowboy film, in which you play larger-than-life character Canfield, a ranger who raids the futuristic city of Maslow to rescue children. Or, as the author delightfully puts it: a pre-apocalyptic Western!
It’s refreshing to put away the dice and pick up our wits, as there is no randomness in this gamebook. We start by picking Canfield’s three primary skills. I go for bullseye, for I would be no respected gun slinger if I couldn’t hit a barn door, and ambush, as it seems to naturally complement bullseye. Due to my sneaky ambushing and sniping tactics, I reason I would have retained my rugged good looks, so I pick this trait also. Cowboys are then directed to section 1.
Gunlaw immediately draws us in with excellent narrative and I feel the cactus growing on my tongue. The writing and the choices are all good and make sense. Throughout the book we experience a series of crazy adventures, including a thrilling car chase, a gore-fest in a shopping mall and the delivery of a baby. I really enjoyed it, even as the scenarios became more and more bizarre. The author has a very cynical version of the future, where everyone seems fat and greedy and disgusting. He also writes gloriously well:
“Canfield enters a bar called The Hellhole. Nothing ever happens there except liver damage. Apart from the aging slobs embalming themselves, the place looks pleasant with its decor of houseplants. Lisa canes and cacti sit in a bath of techno music, wanting to die.”
Canfield is a brilliant character, who clings to his outdated values and quickly turns in a cult figure. Part-way through the book it becomes apparent that you cannot really die. Canfield is just a badass and will get you through any situation, no matter how dire. I felt like I was playing a hero in a tv series, and this was great.
My criticism is that the ending seemed to come too soon, peter out and then whimper away. I failed in my task, by being unable to locate the new born baby, because I did not find the One True Route through the book. Because of this it felt like a strange ending (when does a Western end with the hero not saving the day?!) It feels like this should have been an auto-win book. I’d also like to see more. More episodes.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable, outrageous romp through a futuristic city (as a cowboy!). Recommended.