Seattle Sourcebook (1990)

When I think of Shadowrun, I primarily think of Seattle when it comes to the setting, so it seemed appropriate to tack the Seattle Sourcebook (1990) next. It only just occurs to me that Shadowrun was released about a year ahead of the rise of grunge/alternative, for which Seattle was ground zero. I don’t know if that means anything, aside of the fact that Seattle was having a pop culture moment, but it is worth keeping in mind.

There are cool aspects of this book. It basically takes the form of a paper version of a hyperlinked web guide (that, format-wise, anticipates a lot of smart phone and tablet user interfaces) long before that sort of thing really existed online. I love that they have little scroll cursors in the layout – you immediately get a sense of how it would work even though it doesn’t work. The meat of the book is entry after entry detailing countless restaurants, clubs and other locations of interest. Each entry has a straightforward info block, followed by flavor provided through comments and reviews by shadowrunners and other Seattle denizens, sort of like a cyberpunk Yelp (which was founded in 2004, nearly 15 years after this book came out).

The illustrations are largely faux advertisements. This is a fun idea in theory, but in execution I think the potential is left unrealized. The majority of the ads very much feel like the work of one person who doesn’t have a lot of experience in advertising, and they feel much more 1990 than they do 2050. A surprising number of ads are for malls. A lot also feature photos of models, and I am struggling to unpack that particular nexus of punk, late-80s cultural hangovers and cosplay.

Is it useful? I think so! But it never really exhibits the energy I get from Sprawl Sites. True to its form as a faux travel guide, it feels largely like a data dump. Which is fine. But a year later, Cyberpunk 2020’s comparable Night City takes a similar approach and just thoroughly kills it in my estimation, which makes it a little difficult for me to get hyped on this one.

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