Borderlands: Unconquered Review: Came, Saw, Did Not Conquer

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John Shirley returns to the world of Pandora with Borderlands: Unconquered, his second novel set within the Borderlands game series. Borderlands: The Fallen was based on the first game, and it was a good one. I was hoping this return to the world of the infamous Vault hunters would be another good one, but I was more than a little disappointed – in every way.

Author: John Shirley
Publisher: Pocket Books
Release Date: September 25, 2012

Borderlands: Unconquered doesn’t really follow the same pattern of the first book at all. Whereas Borderlands: The Fallen took one solid story and brought it all together with Roland as the main character, Unconquered has several familiar characters from the games – including Roland, Mordecai, and Marcus. But the second book takes place in the Borderlands 2 universe, in that the monsters and even some of the plot points (specifically Eridium) are in it. So then where are Axton, Maya, Salvador, and Zero? They’re not in the book… at all. Not even mentioned. Sure, the characters from the first game are in the second game – as NPCs – but why did Shirley decide to use only them – and describe some of the more familiar places from the second game – in the second novel?

The result is a confusing and awkward book that doesn’t really know what it’s doing. It jumps around from characters you know to characters you don’t know – made up allies and villains, some of which are interesting, some of which are ridiculous (in a bad way). Shirley has created a plot that is overly sexualized, which is something that isn’t really an integral part of either of the games in this universe – unless you spend a lot of time with Moxxi, but she clears up some of why she uses innuendos in the Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty DLC. That sounds like a joke, but I’m being serious.

The story is told by Marcus when he is transporting some newcomers to Fyrestone. They’re attacked by Psychos, and while they wait for Scooter to come bail them out, Marcus tells a tale about adventure and excitement. Well, he spins it as that, and it’s kind of like that, but it mostly just feels like a long commercial for the video game as well as for the gun companies. I think Shirley gave the name of every single gun in the entire book, which is funny the first 20 times, but not so much the last 20 times. It’s cute in the game – ooh, look, Derp Nukem! – but when it’s written in a story, it just doesn’t carry the same amount of weight. I mean, great, Shirley – you’re telling me about a Dahl gun. Is it elemental? What’s the percentage chance of that elemental effect? How much ammo does it use up? these are all things I want to know while I’m playing the game, but not necessarily when I’m reading a book in the same fictional universe.

Alone, the story may not have been that bad, but then Shirley had to go and plaster sex all over it. He created a villain who controls the crazed lunatics of Pandora with her sexuality (through a drug) and, from there, plans to build an army to take over the entire planet. Her name is Goddess General Gynella, and she’s tall, blond, voluptuous, and bitchy, which seems to make her some kind of super woman.

It’s not that I mind having a sexy lady and some kind of weird sex slavery in a science fiction book. What I mind is that there’s nothing like this at all in the Borderlands universe. There are no overtly sexual themes, other than the sometimes awkwardly adorable interactions between Lilith and Roland, and the disturbingly funny attempts at getting a lady by Scooter (almost all of which are ladies related to him). There’s nothing creepy like what happens in the second novel, which involves discussions of male members that belong in softcore porn.

Borderlands: Unconquered is a disappointing novel, to say the least. I stuck with it because I’m a diehard Borderlands fan, and I will consume anything created in the universe (yes, I even have the iOS game). But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone other than those who are like me. Are you on your third playthrough of Borderlands 2? Did you already finish the expansions and are hungrily awaiting the next one? Did you enjoy the first book? Then maybe this is a book you should pick up. But if I were you, I’d leave it unopened and unread.

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Borderlands: Unconquered was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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