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Posts Tagged ‘steampunk

The Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle

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Clockwork ManSmall press HiLoBooks has been reviving stories from the “Radium Age,” a term coined by publisher Joshua Glenn to mean the era in science fiction encompassing 1904 to 1933. The Clockwork Man, having come out last week, is their most recent title in the series.

Written by Edwin Vincent (E.V.) Odle, a British playwright, critic, and short-story author, The Clockwork Man is considered by many to be the first cyborg novel. Unfortunately it came out in 1923, the same year as Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., which succeeded in taking all the glory.

For years The Clockwork Man languished in obscurity, ultimately becoming out-of-print. Joshua Glenn, having heard about the book, was tired of waiting for someone else to reissue it, found a first edition, and brought it back to life.

A forgotten classic, first serialized online at HiLoBrow, now published in paperback with an introduction from Annalee Newitz of io9, The Clockwork Man should be on the shelf of every science fiction fan.

Here’s an excerpt:

It was just as Doctor Allingham had congratulated himself upon the fact that the bowling was broken, and he had only to hit now and save the trouble of running, just as he was scanning the boundaries with one eye and with the other following Tanner’s short, crooked arm raised high above the white sheet at the back of the opposite wicket, that he noticed the strange figure. Its abrupt appearance, at first sight like a scarecrow dumped suddenly on the horizon, caused him to lessen his grip upon the bat in his hand. His mind wandered for just that fatal moment, and his vision of the oncoming bowler was swept away and its place taken by that arresting figure of a man coming over the path at the top of the hill, a man whose attitude, on closer examination, seemed extraordinarily like another man in the act of bowling.

That was why its effect was so distracting. It seemed to the doctor that the figure had popped up there on purpose to imitate the action of a bowler and so baulk him. During the fraction of a second in which the ball reached him, the second image had blotted out everything else. But the behavior of the figure was certainly abnormal. Its movements were violently ataxic. Its arms revolved like sails of a windmill. Its legs shot out in all directions, enveloped in dust.

The doctor’s astonishment was turned into annoyance by the spectacle of his shattered wicket. A vague clatter of applause broke out. The wicket keeper stooped down to pick up the bails. The fielders relaxed and flopped down on the grass. They seemed to have discovered suddenly that it was a hot afternoon, and that cricket was, after all, a comparatively strenuous game. One of the umpires, a sly nasty fellow, screwed up his eyes and looked hard at the doctor as the latter passed him, walking with the slow, meditative gait of the bowled out, and swinging his gloves. There was nothing to do but glare back, and make the umpire feel a worm. The doctor wore an eye-glass, and he succeeded admirably. His irritation boiled over and produced a sense of ungovernable childish rage. Somehow, he had not been able to make any runs this season, and his bowling average was all to pieces. He began to think he ought to give up cricket. He was getting past the age when a man can accept reverses in the spirit of the game, and he was sick and tired of seeing his name every week in the Great Wymering Gazette as having been dismissed for a “mere handful.”

He looked out the window, and there was that confounded figure still jiggling about. It had come nearer to the ground. It hovered, with a curious air of not being related to its surroundings that was more than puzzling. It did not seem to know what it was about, but hopped along aimlessly, as though scenting a track, stopped for a moment, blundered forward again and made a zig-zag course towards the ground. The doctor watched it advancing through the broad meadow that bounded the pitch, threading its way between the little groups of grazing cows, that raised their heads with more than their ordinary, slow persistency, as though startled by some noise. The figure seemed to be aiming for the barrier of hurdles that surrounded the pitch, but whether its desire was for cricket or merely to reach some kind of goal, whether it sought recreation or a mere pause from its restless convulsions, it was difficult to tell. Finally, it fell against the fence and hung there, two hands crooked over the hurdle and its legs drawn together at the knees. It became suddenly very still—so still that it was hard to believe it ever moved.

It was certainly odd. The doctor was so struck by something altogether wrong about the figure, something so suggestive of a pathological phenomenon, that he almost forgot his annoyance and remained watching it with an unlighted cigarette between his lips.

Find The Clockwork Man at your local bookstore
Listen to Joshua Glenn on Gweek (second segment)
Read The Clockwork Man online
Check out the other books in the HiLoBooks Radium Age series

Written by Gabrielle

September 17, 2013 at 6:54 am

Book and Pop Culture Podcast Roundup

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For all my fellow podcast junkies, or those who don’t know where to start, I highly recommend these shows that recently graced my ears. In no particular order, other than my memory:

Other People podcast with Brad Listi: Karl Taro Greenfeld
Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of, most recently, Triburbia, a debut novel that follows his career in journalism and his previous memoir about his autistic brother. In this interview with Brad Listi, Greenfeld talks about his career in magazines, the trouble with memory and how it translates on the page, and levels of fabrication in works of nonfiction. After you’ve listened, you can read his Q&A with the Daily Beast.

Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler: RuPaul’s drag race, drag u, supermodel of the world
Aisha Tyler’s near-2-hour interview podcast is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Not only is she funny in this adorably nerdy way, she knows how to have a conversation. In a recent episode Tyler sat down with the legendary RuPaul, best known as the drag queen made famous by the 1993 song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.

In the interview Ru talks about his beginnings in California, moving to Atlanta, coming to New York City and making a name for himself in the club scene, first dressing in “punk drag” (think David Bowie), then “black hooker drag,” and finally moving on to the upscale diva he is today.

Listen to RuPaul as you’ve probably never heard him before then let Slate’s June Thomas help you decide if you should watch RuPaul’s reality show, Drag Race.

Nerdist Writer’s Panel: TV Fantasy Goes Mainstream
Live from the ATX Television Festival, Nerdist Writer’s Panel host, Ben Blacker, moderates a panel discussion with Jeff Davis (creator, Teen Wolf and Criminal Minds); Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time; Husbands; BSG; Buffy); Richard Hatem (creator, Miracles; Grimm); Jose Molina (Firefly; Terra Nova; Vampire Diaries); Ben Edlund (creator, The Tick; Firefly; Supernatural).

A show geared towards those looking to get into the television industry on the creative side, although highly enjoyable for all who love the inner workings of the entertainment industry, this all-star lineup discusses how they’ve pitched shows, mistakes they’ve made, and the climate for fantasy in television today.

Bookrageous: Stream of Consciousness Edition
For all of you unfamiliar with Bookrageous, this is one of the best book podcasts out there. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it simply because I think everyone should listen to it. Twice a month friends Jenn, a bookseller in Brooklyn, Rebecca, a book blogger in Virginia, and Josh, a blogger and bookseller in Maine, get together by Skype and talk about books. They start with what they’re reading—because all three have access to advance copies from the publisher, every so often a title to yet available sneaks in, which is good for other bloggers or readers who like to know about books early—and next they move on a topic for discussion.

Topics in the recent past have included essay collections, funny books, and the books they’d bring with them to a desert island.

For their most recent episode they came up with topics on the fly and it was just as enjoyable as their planned shows. Listen to what they have to say about parody books, books they haven’t read yet but wish they had, and “high fantasy” recommendations to the group from science fiction and fantasy expert Jenn.

Book Based Banter: Book Groups, Top Summer Reads, and Are You Literary Enough?
Another excellent book podcast. In this episode Gavin and Simon discuss book groups. They mention one in particular that instead of picking a specific book they choose a topic and everyone in the group reads a book within that theme. For example, Paris or a circus. I thought that was a great idea. They also ask themselves, and their listeners, what it means to be “literary”. What is a literary book? If you like to think about books, definitely listen to this one.

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour: On Fall TV And Whether Criticism Is Too Nice
The Pop Culture Happy Hour is always fantastic but this week they discuss the recent article that ran in Slate about Twitter ruining literary criticism. This roundtable of three pop culture critics have some interesting things to say on the topic, but first Linda Holmes talks about upcoming television shows and after they all rave about “what’s making [them] happy this week”. Great show, you should subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode.

SF Signal: Steampunk Roundtable
If you like science fiction, and steampunk in particular, you won’t want to miss this round table discussion with authors, reviewers, and editors Cherie Priest, Jay Lake, Gail Carriger, Paul Di Fillipo, Phillipa Ballantine and Tee Morris. Listen to them hash out a definition, talk about the history of the movement, and discuss books within the genre.

Bookworm: Sheila Heti
Interview Editor for The Believer magazine, novelist, and Canadian Sheila Heti sat down in Los Angeles with Michael Silverblatt to discuss her latest novel, How Should a Person Be?. What transpires is a great conversation about writing fiction from real life.

Sound Opinions: Jack White
Even if you’ve never heard one chord of Jack White’s music from his now defunct band The White Stripes, you will still want to listen to this incredible interview with the talented and bright musician. Throughout this oral history of White’s life getting into and being in the business are clips of his songs. Heading up one of the best shows about music on the air, Sound Opinions’ hosts Jim and Greg are perfect for getting White to open up about the things that matter—music, music, and music. Check out this gossip-free interview with an incredible musician.

Written by Gabrielle

August 16, 2012 at 6:57 am

Interview with Lavie Tidhar, author of The Great Game, an Alt-history, Steampunk Mystery

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Science fiction author Lavie Tidhar is a busy man. He’s had two novels published in 2011 and will see two more this year. Along with his longform fiction, Tidhar fills his time writing short stories, editing anthologies and websites, and, of course, hanging out on Twitter. This month, science fiction publisher Angry Robot is putting out the third book in his Bookman Histories series, The Great Game. But for those of you who have yet to discover the first two, you won’t need to go back to the beginning, The Great Game is one of those few sequels that can be read as a standalone novel.

Infused with steampunk elements, The Great Game is an interwoven, alt-history tale of espionage, often with the feel of an old spy novel. Historical and fictional characters — Oliver Twist, Bram Stoker, Houdini, Jack London, and Frankenstein to name a few — mingle on the streets of Victorian-era London as a “secret shadow war” wages on between humans, a ruling class of lizards, and automatons.

In 2011, Lavie Tidhar was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for his international science fiction site, The World SF Blog, and recently, his book Osama has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Award. Lavie took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the writing process, the role of politics in science fiction, and his love of poetry. You can check out his site here and follow him on Twitter at @lavietidhar.

You’re a prolific writer — your Bookman series has come out in rapid succession and in between you’ve published another novel, a number of short stories, you’re Editor-in-Chief of the World SF Blog, and you maintain your own blog. You’ve also gained a reputation for your frequent Twitter usage. How do you balance your writing with your social media output? Your blogging, editing, and longer form writing?

I tend to do the blogs first — get up, check e-mail, have coffee, update blogs — that sort of thing. Then I can get on with writing. I’m not really a morning person, so it’s a good way for me to slowly ease into that semi-vegetative state required for writing.

Otherwise, it’s a catch-all for me, writing-wise – sometimes I have long stretches of novel writing, then I need a break and write a short story. I love short stories. At the moment I have four half-novels on the go so having to decide which one to focus on can be tricky! Generally I like working on a lot of different things, so I don’t get bored.

Are you someone who finds Twitter facilitates their writing process?

I do find Twitter quite helpful as an escape from writing. I tweet a lot, but only really when I’m writing. It’s like a lot of mini-breaks in between. I just get to be a big geek on Twitter. I was trying variations on The Wizard of Oz on Twitter a while back, came up with The Were-Wizard of Oz and thought, aha! Ended up writing that one and selling it to Ekaterina Sedia’s Beware the Night anthology.

In January of 2010 you wrote a piece for SF Signal about the growing interest in steampunk. You mention its current day relevance: the similarities between England as a colonial power in Victorian times and the US today. The title of your new book, The Great Game, brings to mind the struggle for control of Central Asia that took place between the British and Russian Empire during the 19th century. Your story involves a secret shadow war not only between nations but also between humans, lizards, and automatons. How do you use your work to draw parallels between the past, present, and future?

The Victorian era is so important, you know, in order to understand the world we live in today. Just look at the war in Afghanistan – the First Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-1842, that is. Really our world was shaped so much by that British Empire – no amount of goggles or parasols or cogs or whatever can really obscure the underlying political force of that era, the way it shaped borders, ethnicities, economics and war today.

In my own steampunk trilogy I tried to assume a better 19th century, really – an America only partially colonized by Europeans, an Africa with its intact empires and trade networks, an era where women have more freedom than they did – Irene Adler (from Sherlock Holmes) is a police inspector and becomes chief of Scotland Yard by the third book, for instance. Kind of ironic when the updated-to-our-present day TV series of Holmes makes her into a sex worker! I wonder what it says about our age. The world of the Bookman Histories is not a much better world – there’s revolution, poverty, discrimination, everything the 19th century was so good at – but that’s part of the fun, too.

Read the rest at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Gabrielle

February 2, 2012 at 7:05 am

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

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China Miéville is one of the brainiest authors writing today. With a background in sociolinguistics, Miéville describes his latest book, Embassytown, as being about “language and subspace and lots of classic science fictional stuff.”

“For me,” he continues, “the book is not so much about actually existing linguistics necessarily so much as it is to do with a certain kind of more abstract . . . philosophy of language of symbols, and of semiotics, and indeed some of this crosses over into theological debates.”

But no need to worry about symbols and semiotics just yet because before there was Embassytown, there was Perdido Street Station.

Published in 2000, Perdido Street Station earned China a place within the science fiction writing community. He was nominated for the both the Nebula and Hugo Award, respectably losing out to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (because really, who can compete with that?). He is a two-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award: first for Perdido Street in 2001 and then again in 2010 for his novel The City & The City.

The first of his novels set in the fictional world of Bas-Lag, specifically the large city-state of New Crobuzon, Perdido Street Station is an experiment in alternate world cosmopolitanism. It’s a place where humans, mythical birds, and half-bugs mingle.

The story opens with the rogue scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin waking up next to his khepri girlfriend, Lin, an artist who fled her provincial upbringing for city life. Those familiar with Egyptian mythology will know that the name Khepri comes from the god who had a scarab body for a face. In Miéville’s story, the female khepri have human bodies, tinted a shade of red, and, like their namesake, a scarab for a head. Unable to communicate vocally with humans, they’ve created a form of sign language using their “head legs”.

The multi-species community brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s with its tenuous interactions and irrational prejudices. The various races live amongst each other on different socioeconomic levels and interracial dating is taboo; if Isaac wants to retain his laboratory privileges provided to him by the university, he must keep his relationship with Lin a secret.

While the relationship between Lin and Isaac provides an interesting lens through which to view life in Bas-Lag, it’s the arrival of Yagharek, a garuda, the mythical bird mentioned above, that provides the catalyst. Yagharek comes to Isaac looking for help. As punishment for a transgression against his people, his wings had been sawed off, leaving him deformed and flightless. He asks Isaac to make him a new set—not just for show but for function as well.

While researching flying animals and insects, Isaac obtains a caterpillar on the black market. He allows it to grow, feeds it the only thing it will eat—a powerful drug flooding the streets of New Crobuzon—and takes no heed as the mysterious bug spins its cocoon. What hatches is a slake-moth, a deadly insect that exists multi-dimensionally and has no known predator.

Breaking free from its inadequate cage, the moth rescues four of its brethren from high-security captivity. Institutionalized corruption and unlikely alliances surface as the various organizations with varied interests in the moths go on the hunt.

Perdido Street Station’s strength is its rich detail. Powerful descriptions of the city and those of the often grotesque creatures living within its borders, envelope the reader in a world existing outside of anything previously imagined. It’s not a quick read, nor is it easy, but that is Miéville’s niche: the savored read. China Miéville’s sophisticated writing style puts him at the forefront of science fiction today and has given Perdido Street Station an enduring place within the canon.

Buy Perdido Street Station, or find one at your local store, at IndieBound
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (audio)
Geek’s Guide Interview transcribed at Lightspeed Magazine (text)
Guardian Interview: The Books that Made Me (audio)
Book Lust with Nancy Pearl (video)
3:AM Magazine Interview (text)
Excerpt of Perdido Street Station at NPR
Profile in The New York Times (for 2010 release of Kraken)

::[Other books by China Miéville]::
King Rat (2000)
“Obviously music was a big influence on King Rat. It was written during the high point of Drum n’ Bass. That was what I was listening to at that point. King Rat is above all a London novel but coming close behind it is also a music novel. The other two novels haven’t been quite like that. I write to music but music doesn’t saturate the book in the same way. To that extent King Rat was relatively anomalous. When a new music comes along that moves me in the same way that drum n’ bass did then I’m sure it’ll find it’s way into the writing.” [via 3:AM Magazine interview]

“Something is stirring in London’s dark, stamping out its territory in brickdust and blood. Something has murdered Saul Garamond’s father, and left Saul to pay for the crime.” [via IndieBound]

The Scar (2002)
The second novel set in the Bas-Lag world, is a maritime story set off the coast of where New Crobuzon is and it’s basically a pirate story. It’s about a big floating pirate city made of ships lashed together. People get caught by pirates and it goes from there. Again, it comes from my childhood reading and the trick with modern pulp and with anything good is to be respectful and true to the roots and to do something in that tradition and do it as well as you can. I don’t like post-modern nudges and winks. I’m not big on irony. So it’s not like I’m ironically winking at a fantasy tradition of pirates. This is a pirate book. Hopefully it’s also an interesting creative novel and one you can read on other levels but it is also a pirate book.” [via 3:AM Magazine interview]

“Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.” [via IndieBound]

Iron Council (2005)
“It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.

In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.” [IndieBound]

Un Dun Lun (2007)
“[W]ith “Un Lun Dun” — a sooty, street-smart hybrid of “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Phantom Tollbooth” — Miéville’s talents have been brought into focus under the restrictions of the form. “Un Lun Dun” is not only sleek of line and endlessly (but not needlessly) inventive, it also offers a nimble, undidactic antidote to all the dubious clichés of the genre. Sick of seemingly insignificant characters who discover they have a secret identity and a momentous destiny? Tired of stories that hinge on cryptic prophecies and the retrieval of magical talismans? Miéville dares to insist that nerve, heart and determination is all a hero(ine) really needs.” [via Salon]

The City & The City (2009)
“The City and the City is very different. It takes place in our familiar world, a post-Soviet locale which draws on string theory for its ideas and conventional experience for its story. Apart from one exceptional detail, this book could be a clever mystery story told from the point of view of a Balkan policeman struggling to cope with the problems of a society burdened by traditions and attitudes from its recent authoritarian past. Featureless concrete, rattling trams and antiquated office equipment invoke Greene’s The Third Man and Vienna’s zones of occupation. You can almost hear a zither twanging somewhere in an echoing sewer.” [via Michael Moorcock review]

Kraken (2010)
“Kraken’s whirlpool of a plot zeros in on Billy Harrow, a young scientist at London’s Natural History Museum who recently embalmed the institution’s latest acquisition, a giant squid. When the squid vanishes, Billy gets sucked into a teeming, paranormal London underworld—reminiscent in some ways of Miéville’s bestselling young-adult novel,Un Lun Dun—that’s crisscrossed by magic constables; foppish Nazis; a pair of monstrous, father-and-child assassins; animal mediums on strike; an origamist who uses math to fold solid matter; and a cult of squid-worshippers whose apocalypse is on the fast track now that their deity is missing. Due to his contact with the creature, the cult considers Billy a prophet, and before long, he’s caught in a larger battle involving clashing eschatologies, reality written in squid ink, and even the personified sea itself.” [via the A.V. Club]

Embassytown (2011)
“Embassytown is a riveting trip through a monster-haunted subspace called the immer, and down into a tiny human ghetto called Embassytown on a planet called Areika, whose alien inhabitants cannot understand any language but their own. . . . If you are fascinated by stories of genuinely alien cultures, you need to read Embassytown (it comes out in May). And if you’re a fan of China Miéville, author of The City & The City andKraken, you’re in for a treat: This is his first pure science fiction novel.” [via i09]

Written by Gabrielle

December 1, 2011 at 6:10 am

The Allure of the Circus

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“There were always tears of joy; a man so beautifully married to machine was something that people needed to see after a war like they had been through. The technology in those days was weapons and radio signals; people needed to remember the art of the machine.”

Since the age of 9, Genevieve Valentine has been a fan of Circus du Soleil. What drew her in was the seemingly impossible artistry and athleticism of the performers. As an author of short fantasy stories, it wasn’t too far a leap to see the fantastical elements in this real-life traveling troupe. When asked by Prime Books founder and publisher, Chris Wallace, if she had any dark-fantasy ideas she wanted to flesh out, Genevieve went to her list and found Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, the story of a supernatural circus set in a post apocalyptic world.

Valentine’s Circus Tresaulti is one of the few travelling entities left in the war-torn world of walled cities, receded governments, and bombed out buildings. The group is composed of body-modified performers fitted out and led by their ringleader—a woman known only as Boss.

Through complex story structure, one that plays with point of view and time, the reader is given slivers of information from alternating perspectives. The details come in pieces, forcing one to hold them together in their mind until they can be taken as a whole. As the story moves forward, the circus begins to fall apart. Traumas of the past and current internal battles envelope the group—their relationships rife with competition and emotional inconsistencies.

The story of Alec, the beloved aerial performer last to possess a set of beautiful wings made of pipe and bone, who plunged, willingly, to his death, haunts those who knew him and who were there to witness his end. The reason for Alec’s self-destruction is shrouded in mystery and can only be surmised by a select few. The repetitive remembering of his fall is a warning, a foreshadowing, of what might come to whoever wears them next. The two newcomers, Bird and Steno, covet those wings, now stored in Boss’s workshop, not knowing the power they wield.

Genevieve creates an interesting contrast to the destruction of the circus as she moves the story backwards in time. In these interweaving vignettes she retells each performer’s beginnings, showing how the community was built out of the wreckage of war.

We’re introduced to Ayer, the strongman whose skeleton is externally reinforced with metal junk, and his assistant, Jonah, who was brought, near-death, to the circus and saved with clockwork lungs; Panadrome, a conductor of an opera in his previous life, a victim of a bombing, is now a self-contained one man band; and the aerialists, hollowed out, their bones replaced with copper pipes, are made light and easy to reconstruct if ever they fall. After the performers are modified, all are given new names, as if starting anew, leaving their old lives behind.

Throughout the story, in addition to the tension brewing inside, the circus faces an outside threat from a shadowy figure known as the government man. He hopes to co-opt Boss’s body-modifying talents to build an indestructible mechanical army. All comes to a head when Boss is taken to an undisclosed location and the troupe is split into two ideological camps—those who think they should flee the city before the others are captured and those who want to wait for her return.

Little George, the main narrator of the story and Boss’s apprentice who’s been with the troupe since the age of 5, reluctantly takes the reigns, finds his footing, and goes from mere helper to leader in a matter of hours. It’s a mini coming-of-age tale surrounded by a larger story of survival.

The driving force of Mechanique is the intrigue. You’re never given the full story, only brief glimpses, as if looking at a landscape through squinted eyes. The unknown creates a sense of unease and with it a sense of urgency; but Mechanique, although easily devoured, is a book whose every word is meant to be digested.

In his review, Jeff VanderMeer said Mechanique “represent[s] the future of fantastical fiction.” One can hope.

Read three stories based on the world of Circus Tresaulti (not spoilery): Bread and Circuses, The Finest Spectacle Anywhere, and Study, for Solo Piano

Buy Mechanique at IndieBound
Visit Genevieve’s website where she blogs regularly
Visit the official Circus Tresaulti site
Follow Genevieve on Twitter @GLValentine
Listen to her interview on io9’s Geeks Guide to the Galaxy

Written by Gabrielle

November 8, 2011 at 5:43 am

On the Shelf: Child Protagonists and Compelling Interviews

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The first panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival featured three outstanding authors who recently featured children protagonists in their adult novels. The title of the talk was “Kids on the Skids” and was moderated by Richard Locke, author of the nonfiction book Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels.

Locke’s book explores 130 years of child representation in adult literature. He examines such characters as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Pip in Great Expectations; Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; Miles and Flora in The Turn of the Screw; Peter Pan, Holden Caulfield, Lolita, and Alexander Portnoy of Portney’s Complaint.

The panelists included Justin Torres who recently published We The Animals, a semi-autobiographical novel of three brothers growing up in a poor, dysfunctional household—although he would dispute that last term; Tayari Jones whose recent novel, Silver Sparrow, is about a young girl with a bigamist father who learns she and her mother are the secret family out of the two he’s chosen to have; and Kevin Holohan whose book The Brothers’ Lot is a satirical look at Catholic priest abuses through the lense of students at a boys school in Dublin.

It was a question I’d never thought to ask: how do authors use childhood and child narrators in novels meant for adults? It’s easily overlooked as you settle into a book—absorbed in the story, taken in by the dialogue, and intrigued by the characters. But how do books differ when told by someone without life experience, a person inherently naive, and by someone who might not have the language to explain the world around them. The answers the authors gave were thoughtful and eye-opening.

In his book, Kevin used children as a way to critique an institution. To him the child characters act as a counterpoint to the nastiness of adults. His explanation echoed Richard’s findings that children in literature offer an ethical alertness and a fresh perspective untainted by the cynicism of adulthood.

Tayari’s characters came about through her personal feeling that “children matter,” that young people belong to the world just as much as grownups, and that they often suffer from their marginal status in society.

Justin’s novel is informed by looking back on his childhood as an adult making sense of an experience. He wanted a view absent of the language “pop-psychology” has injected into our lexicon—words such as “dysfunctional” and “abusive”. This intentional exclusion echos the childhood experience, the one where our lives appear normal.

It was a great discussion by four insightful authors, one that undoubtedly add layers to how I view stories from a child’s perspective.

What was the last adult novel you read that had a child protagonist? Were you aware of the point of view?

On the shelf . . .

Tin House: The Ecstatic vol. 13 Summer 1
Tin House is a quarterly literary magazine now in its twelfth year. Their issues, featuring fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and beyond-book-report-style reviews, are always worth reading from cover to cover. The latest, entitled The Ecstatic, has eye-catching cover art from Matt Hansel, fiction from Small Beer Press founder and author Kelly Link, an essay on drugs from Peter Berbergal whose book is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press, some thoughts on Joey McIntyre formerly of New Kids on the Block by the lovely Emma Straub, poetry from Meghan O’Rourke, and an interview with poet and novelist Ben Okri. Tin House is the perfect place to get all your edgy, literary kicks in one place. You can keep track of them through their website, on Facebook, and at Twitter: @Tin_House.

The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross E. Lockhart
H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu has had a lasting effect on science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. This collection includes mythos-inspired stories from Charles Stross, Cherie Priest, Elizabeth Bear, and many others.

Before I get to the next three books on my list, it’s worth noting that a great author interview make me take notice of a book. There were three interviews this week that grabbed my attention. The first two, Catherynne Valente and Genevieve Valentine, were archived shows from the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, a great sci-fi oriented podcast hosted on the popular website The last one was a public radio interview with Toure about his latest book.

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne is an author as well as the Fiction and Poetry Editor at Apex Magazine, a monthly mag for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In her interview with the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy she talks about the books she read as a kid, her love of myth, and how she came up with the term “mythpunk.” She also talks about roasting lamb on a spit while reading the Illiad and how young writers can start publishing their work. You can check out her website here where she has a great FAQ page and a lot of stuff available for free.

Here’s a description of Palimpsest, the story of a “sexually transmitted city” from IndieBound:

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
Genevieve writes both fiction and nonfiction—including movie reviews where she loves to skewer really bad films. You can keep track of her movie-going here. You can find all of her writing and links to other projects through her website.

In her interview with the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy she discusses how she came to write—and appreciate the many layers of—steampunk, her inspiration for writing a book about the circus, and—of course—some very bad films that are still worth watching, or not.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Mechanique on my Tumblr page.

Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now by Toure
Toure discussed the premise of his book on The Leonard Lopate Show—that the notion of blackness has changed over the years. Using pop culture and politics, Toure shows that a younger generation is navigating the new landscape based on their experiences rather than their parents’ and grandparents’.

From IndieBound:

Toure begins by examining the concept of “Post-Blackness,” a term that defines artists who are proud to be Black but don’t want to be limited by identity politics and boxed in by race. He soon discovers that the desire to be rooted in but not constrained by Blackness is everywhere. In Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? he argues that Blackness is infinite, that any identity imaginable is Black, and that all expressions of Blackness are legitimate.

The New York Times, in a timely review, called it “one of the most acutely observed accounts of what it is like to be young, black and middle-class in contemporary America.” And went on to say that “Touré inventively draws on a range of evidence — auto­biography, music, art, interviews, comedy and popular social analysis — for a performance carried through with unsparing honesty, in a distinctive voice that is often humorous, occasionally wary and defensive, but always intensely engaging.”

What’s on your shelf this week?

Written by Gabrielle

September 29, 2011 at 6:00 am

On the Shelf: Cory Doctorow on Self-Publishing, Jesse Ball on Bookworm, and King Arthur at the Round Table

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Cory Doctorow, author, blogger, and co-editor of the wildly popular pop culture website BoingBoing, is also a columnist for the science fiction magazine Locus. In his most recent article, Why Should Anyone Care?, he gives thought to his self-published short story collection With a Little Help that came out in December of 2010.

Over the past two years there’s been a steady increase in both talk about self-publishing and writers actually doing it. It’s quickly becoming easier to produce a book on one’s own and there have been a few successes—Amanda Hocking for one—that have helped create a sense of possibility. Both computers and the software needed to create a book are easier to use; print-on-demand websites like Lulu and Blurb are gaining popularity; the proliferation of e-readers makes it possible to test out a digital only version sparing the writer print costs; and the rise of social media culture encourages self-promotion and entrepreneurship—not to mention that a strong online can help sell the final product.

It’s easy to look at the few success stories and think, “why not?” Anyone who’s tried to get their work published traditionally knows it’s hard. Publishing houses rarely have time to pick through slush piles so more often than not you need an agent to pitch your book to editors; the editors need to like your book; and then the imprint’s publisher needs to see a place for it in the current market. The numerous steps, the limited resources of publishers, and a staggering number authors vying for the same coveted position can make the effort seem futile.

As with the rise in self-publishing, there has been, what seems to be, an endless supply of commentary on the subject—the encouragers, the detractors, and everyone else in between. It’s hard to make heads or tails of anything. Cory’s piece, however, is incredibly compelling and, for me, has stood out from all the rest. What makes it interesting is the realistic tone. As he’s said himself about his self-publishing project, he wanted to give unpublished writers thinking about going the self-publishing route a better idea of what they could expect. He experimented so others could see what the upper limit would look like.

Cory reached best-selling success with Little Brother published by Tor, a traditional publisher, he has a well-followed website to promote his work, a strong online following through social media, and enough of a name to interest newspapers and magazines.

Here are some of the highlights however, the article should be read in full:

“Publishers generally know what they’re doing, and they’ve got well-tuned, semi-automated systems for getting readers to pay attention to books. They’ve had a lot of practice.Writers, by and large, haven’t. Not successful, established writers, and certainly not brand new, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper writers. It doesn’t really matter how much time you spend hanging around bookstores or browsing online stores, until you’ve marketed a book, you don’t really know how to market a book.”

“. . . like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming and it can be tough (and expensive – sending out hundreds of review copies ain’t cheap, but it was worth it, if only for the major feature inThe Wall Street Journal this garnered me).”

“I get a lot of e-mail from writers starting out who want to know whether it’s worth trying to get published by major houses. The odds are poor – only a small fraction of books find a home in mainstream publishing – and the process can be slow and frustrating.”

“And we’ve all heard about writers who’ve met with modest – or stellar – success with self-publishing. So why not cut out the middleman and go direct to readers?

There’s not a thing wrong with that plan, provided that it is a plan. Mainstream publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades learning and re-learning how to get people to care about the existence of books.”

“Getting people to care about the products of your imagination is a profound and infinitely complex task that will absorb as much attention as you give it.”

You can hear his interview about the process with Mur Lafferty on her podcast, I Should Be Writing (it starts at the 23 minute mark). You can find Cory online at his personal site and you can follow him on Twitter @doctorow.

Have you self-published a book? Have you thought about it? Do you work at a publishing house and have any insider insight for authors? Comments are open.

And now for what’s caught my eye this week.

The Curfew by Jesse Ball
Jesse Ball is both a novelist and poet, and incredibly eloquent when speaking about both: you should listen to his interview on KCRW’s Bookworm for proof. In The Curfew the government is overthrown one night while ordinary citizens sleep. The world they wake up to is frightening—there is war, secret police, and random violence. In the midst of all this, a mother is taken and it’s up to her husband and young daughter to carry on quietly, keeping their head down. That is, until the husband, urged on by an old friend who claims to have a lead, tries to find his wife.

Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier
Life with Mr. Dangerous is the story of 27-year-old Amy who’s a bit down on her luck. She hates her job, her not-so-great boyfriend just dumped her, and she can’t get a hold of her best friend so instead, she spends her time watching the cartoon show Mr. Dangerous. This graphic novel is a mixture of daydreams and reality.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Boneshaker is a steampunk novel set in an alternate 1880s America where an inventor, commissioned by Russians, came up with a machine that could mine through Arctic ice at the hopes of getting to the gold said to be below. Unfortunately, he destroyed downtown Seattle, unearthing a gas line that turned everyone who breathed the air into zombies. Fifteen years later, the late inventor’s son is determined to clear his father’s name. Earlier this year she spoke with the Functional Nerds podcast about urban fantasy, publishing, and writing.

Le Morte D’Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table by Thomas Malory
King Arthur “ is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians.” (Wikipedia). It seems that many pop culture stories, whether they be in print or on the screen stem from Thomas Malory’s inventive tales. Sometimes it’s worth going to the source.

Written by Gabrielle

September 8, 2011 at 5:57 am

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar

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“This is the time of myths. They are woven into the present like silk strands from the past, like a wire mesh from the future, creating an interlacing pattern, a grand design, a repeating motif. Don’t dismiss myth, boy. And never, ever, dismiss the Bookman.”

The thing about steampunk novels is that they make you want to Google everything. It’s the reimagined history element that does it; the fascinating with British Romantic poet Lord Byron and the English inventor Charles Babbage alone will leave you guessing what’s fact and what’s fiction. The urge to search is even stronger with Tidhar Lavie’s novel The Bookman thanks to cameos by Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, and Jules Verne.

Externalities alone make The Bookman is irresistible. David Frankland’s gorgeous cover illustration is worthy of professional framing and the title is one that no book nerd can ignore.  Dig a little deeper and a quick thumb through shows literary epigraphs at the start of each chapter.

Set in Victorian London, as one would expect from a steampunk novel, The Bookman, laden with questions at every turn and sparing with its answers, is a riddle to its core. Although the multiple twists can be confusing if not read with the utmost care, the mystery is one of the driving forces of the book. The unresolved relationships between characters, their conceivable motivations, and possibly most compelling, the unknown origin of the protagonist, Orphan, keeps the eyes moving and the pages turning.

Orphan, both a name and an apt description, is a poet-hopeful and a lackadaisical employee and resident of Payne’s Booksellers. Although the store is owned by a known seditionist and doubles as a meeting place for those looking to overthrow the government—an alien reptilian race known as Les Lézards, the Lizard Kings, who have infiltrated Britain and now occupy the empire’s throne—Orphan’s earthly concerns extend little beyond his romantic interest, Lucy, a slightly aloof, whale-loving girl. Head-over-heels for her, Orphan proposes one night and all seems right with his world.

Unfortunately, the political climate, growing tense by the day, can no longer be ignored. Terrorists, presumably headed by the Bookman, an esoteric and feared figure, have begun setting off bombs in the public arena with deadly consequences and Lucy, unwittingly, becomes a casualty of another attack. Heartsick and desperate, Orphan is forced to play the Bookman’s game, becoming his pawn and setting off on a preternatural adventure.

The vividity of the worlds Orphan passes through on his quest to retrieve his one true love is a strength of Tidhar’s writing. His lyrical prose and use of metaphor ties the fantastical elements to an emotional realism. The outcome is a romantic voyage along the boundaries of absurdity.

The Bookman was a fun and engaging read; Tidhar’s imagination, responsible for creating a world of royal lizards, convincing simulacrum, multicultural pirates, and a shifting island with a strict entrance policy, is something I look forward to experiencing again in his follow up, Camera Obscura.


On Orphan . . .
“Who was Orphan and how had he come to inhabit that great city, the Capital of the Everlasting Empire, the seat of the royal family, the ancestral home of Les Lezards? His father was a Vespuccian sailor, his mother an enigma: both were dead, and had been so for many years. His skin was copper-red, his eyes green like the sea. He had spent his early life on the docks, running errands between the feet of sailors, a minute employee of the East India Company. His knowledge of languages was haphazard if wide, his education colourful and colloquial, his circle of friends and acquaintances far-ranging, if odd.

He learned poetry in the gutter, and from the public readings given by the great men and women of the age; in pubs and dockyards, in halls of learning and in the streets at dawn — and once, from a sword-wielding girl from France, who appeared mysteriously on the deck of a ship Orphan was helping to load with cargo bound for China, and recounted to him, in glorious, beautiful verse, a vision of God (he had never forgotten her) — and he learned it from the books in the public library, until words spun in his head all day and all night, and he agonised at writing them down on paper, his hand bleeding as the pen scratched against the surface of the page.”

On love . . .
“Orphan had first met Lucy one day at the bookshop. She came through the door like — sunshine? Wind? Like spice? Orphan wasn’t that much of a poet — looking for a book about whales. He fell in love the way trees do, which is to say, forever. It was a love with roots that burrowed deep, entangled, grew together. Like two trees they leaned into each other, sheltering each other with their leaves, finding solace and strength in the wide encompassing forest that was the city, holding together in the multitude of alien trees. Orphan loved her the way people do in romantic novels, from the first page, beyond even The End.”

On books . . .
“Paynes was a haven of light in a dark world. Stepping inside, he was nearly overwhelmed with the feeling of home. The familiar, conflicting smells of the books vied for his attention. The musty tang of old volumes, the polished smell of new leather bindings, the crisp clear scent of freshly printed books, all rose to greet him, like a horde of somewhat-dysfunctional relatives at a family event.”“There is nothing sadder than an unused bookshop. Volumes of words, ideas and stories, blueprints and diagnostics, illustrations and notes scribbled in the margins — they did not exist unless there was someone there to hold them, to open their pages, to read them and make them come alive, however briefly.”

The Bookman at IndieBound
Lavie Tidhar’s page at Angry Robot
Lavie Tidhar’s World SF Blog, a site dedicated to science fiction writing from non-English speaking writers
An interview with Lavie on the Functional Nerds podcast
Follow Lavie on Twitter @lavietidhar

Written by Gabrielle

August 23, 2011 at 6:11 am

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

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In my mind there are a few reasons that warrant a less than favorable review: you are paid by a publication and want to be honest or a book is being widely praised and you disagree either with the quality of the writing or the quality of the content. The nature of this blog is to bring attention to works of art I can wholeheartedly recommend and to shed light on their deserving artists. However, in the case of this latest book I read, The Difference Engineby William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, I feel compelled to say a few words even though it fell short of my expectations.

The Difference Engine, published in 1990, is held up as a seminal work in the steampunk genre, a category of science fiction whose stories take place in an alternate version of the Victorian era. Often cited as one of its best examples, this collaborative work is a mystery-adventure novel set in 1855 Britain with Gibson and Sterling imagining what it would have been like had Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, inventor, and mechanical engineer, created his Analytic Engine, a machine controlled by punch cards that would act as a calculator, formulating results based on preceding computations.

According to these two giants of cyberpunk, a category of science fiction known to speculate on the effects of technology in society, the outcome is devastating. In this retelling of history there are two forces at work—the Luddites, a group of working class revolutionaries who despise technological advancement, and the Industrial Radical Party, a political party led by Lord Byron who are brought to power by trade unions.

The story is told in five parts—or “iterations” as they’re called—and made up of three distinct story lines: one following Sybil Gerard, a “fallen” woman and daughter of the executed leader of the Luddites; the next, the escapades of Edward Mallory, a paleontologist and explorer who is dragged into the fray by Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter and Charles Babbage’s protege, after she hands over a much sought-after box of punch cards; the third strand is the story of Laurence Oliphant, portrayed in the book as a journalist who often comes to the aid of Mallory.

These three threads form a socio-political adventure complete with fight scenes, anarchy, espionage, and intricate historical manipulations weaved throughout. The Difference Engine is sophisticated in its writing and well detailed but large chunks felt murky and forced and failed to retain my attention or interest. The characters, while fleshed out on paper, failed to create any emotional connection throughout their 429-page life, ultimately leaving me ambivalent about their fates.

The Difference Engine is possibly best appreciated by someone with knowledge of and passion for British and American history. For the rest of us it would have benefited from being about 100 pages shorter.

If you’re a connoisseur, aspiring or full-fledged, of science fiction in general and steampunk in particular, this is a must-read but keep your expectations low. If I were the star-giving type, this one would get 3 out of 5.

Behind the glass loomed a vast hall of towering Engines—so many that at first Mallory thought the walls must surely be lined with mirrors, like a fancy ballroom. It was like some carnival deception, meant to trick the eye—the giant identical Engines, clock-like constructions of intricately interlocking brass, big as rail-cars set on end, each on its foot-thick padded blocks. The white-washed ceiling, thirty feet overhead, was alive with spinning pulley-belts, the lesser gears drawing power from tremendous spoked flywheels on socketed iron columns. White-coated clackers, dwarfed by their machines, paced the spotless aisles. Their hair was swaddled in wrinkled white berets, their mouths and noses hidden behind squares of white gauze.

Tobias glanced at these majestic racks of gearage with absolute indifference. “All day starin’ at little holes. No mistakes either! Hit a key-punch wrong and it’s all the difference between a clergyman and an arsonist. Many’s the poor innocent bastard ruined like that . . .”

The tick and sizzle of the monster clockwork muffled his words.

::[A Conversation with William Gibson]::
In the latest issue of The Paris Review, William Gibson speaks with David Wallace-Wells about his life as a science fiction author. Here are some highlights:

“I think the popular perception that we’re a lot like the Victorians is in large part correct. One way is that we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing technoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness.”

“Emergent technologies were irreversibly altering their [the Victorian] landscape. bleak House is a quintessential Victorian text, but it is also probably the best steampunk landscape that will ever be. Dickens really nailed it, especially in those proto-Ballardian passages in which everything in nature has been damaged by heavy industry. But there were very few voices like Dickens then. Most people thought the progress of industry was all very exciting. Only a few were saying, Hang on, we think the birds are dying.”

“The only computers I’d ever seen in those days [late-1970s, early-1980s] were the things the size of the side of the barn. And then one day, I walked by a bus stop and there was an Apple poster. The poster was a photograph of a businessman’s jacketed, neatly cuffed arm holding a life-size representation of a real-life computer that was not much bigger than a laptop is today. Everyone is going to have one of these, I thought, and everyone is going to want to live inside them. And somehow I knew that notional space behind all of the computer screens would be one single universe. . . . I think I got cyberspace on the third try, and I thought, Oh, that’s a really weird word. I liked the way it felt in the mouth—I thought it sounded like it meant something while still being essentially hollow.”

The Difference Engine at Random House

Written by Gabrielle

July 25, 2011 at 8:45 am

Classic Steampunk :: Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter

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“An innate trust was an element of my nature that had been dissolved through harsh experience.”

The sepia tone-inspired cover of Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter typifies the sub-genre of science fiction to which it belongs. The image of a man, mouth made of metal, face half covered in leather, wearing a top hat and tux, the background a layering of gears, industrial-sized screws, shiny pipes, and a pressure gauge all scream steampunk.

Steampunk, as it’s often described, takes elements of Victorian-era Britain—its fashion, culture, architecture, art, and the advent of steam-powered technology—and combines them with elements from science fiction and fantasy. Authors, filmmakers, and other artists find inspiration in what was the historic rise of communication and travel and infuse world domination, mass destruction, and conspiracy.

Early influences are Jule Vernes’ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, published in 1870, and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, published in 1895. Steampunk novels, as we think of them today, were published as early as the late 1960s but ascended to popularity in the 1980s and 90s with authors such as Tim Powers and James Blaylock—in addition to Jeter who published his first steampunk novel, Morlock Night, in 1979.

In an attempt to explain what he and his fellow writers were doing, Jeter coined the term “steampunk” in a letter to the editor of Locus magazine, printed in their April 1987 issue. In it he says, “Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steampunks’, perhaps…”.

Jeter’s second steampunk novel, Infernal Devices, published in 1987, is a surrealist mystery set in Victorian London. The story begins with George Dower, the son of a deceased watchmaker left in charge of the family business. One night, George is visited by an unknown creature who he names, because of his deep brown skin, Brown Leather Man. Having been a client of his father’s, the man brings with him a mechanical regulator in need of repair. Though George protests, having been estranged from his father and never trained in the ways of the trade, Brown Leather Man insists on leaving it with him. As partial payment he hands George a silver coin embossed with the face of a Saint Monkfish, a holy man previously unknown to the unwitting heir. The object is met with mixed results throughout the story: at one point leading George directly to the person he’s looking for and yet at another nearly causing his death.

By accepting the device, George enters into a clandestine conflict between warring factions—the Royal Anti-Society, the Godly Army, and the Ladies Union for the Suppression of Carnal Vice—finding himself in murky waters, often not knowing which of these questionable characters is friend and which is foe. As intentions unfold so does the depth of George’s father’s skills and the story grow darker.

Full of fantastical elements, gear-driven gadgets, elegant language, and rich descriptions, Infernal Devices is a twisting tale that reads like classic literature.

The gentleman ignored my forays towards his name, and produced a paper-wrapped parcel from the crook of one arm. Placing it on the counter between us, the Brown Leather Man (as I had already begun  to identify him in my thoughts) undid the knotted cord and pushed aside the paper with his dark hands. “I was a client of your late father,” he said. “For me he built this, upon my commission. Some elements of disorder has entered its workings, and I seek to employ you in the setting right of it.”

The last of the wrappings fell away. “What is it?” I asked. My eyes turned upward at the Brown Leather Man’s silence, and found the narrow slits studying me with an unnerving intensity.

In relief I looked back down to what lay before me. A mahogany box a little over a foot in length, half that in its other dimensions; a pair of brass hinges faced me. With one finger I attempted to swivel the box around, but the surprising weight of it kept it motionless upon the counter. I was forced to grasp it with both hands in order to turn it about.

I unlatched the simple brass hasp and tilted the box’s lid open. My heart sank within me as I looked down at the intricate anatomy of the device.

This feeling of despair was not unfamiliar to me; it often welled up at the sight of one of my father’s creations. His genius had not been limited to the production of the packet watches and larger time-pieces whose subtlety of design and intricacy of execution had established his name among admirers of the horological art. Since his death and my inadequate assumption of his place, I had become acquainted with facets of his work that are still little known, having been undertaken at the behest of a select arid discreet clientele. Scientific and astronomical apparatus of every description, ranging from simple barometers, though of a fineness of calibration rarely if ever equalled, to elaborate astrolabes and orreries, the latter distinguished by a set of reciprocating eccentric cams in the clockwork drive mechanism capable of showing the true elliptical orbits of heavenly bodies rather than the simplified circular motions employed in other such mechanical representations of the universe — all of these and more were my father’s children. More so than my own self, I would often think as I gazed at some intricate intermeshing of gears and cogs such as the one revealed inside the Brown Leather Man’s mahogany casket. The bits of finely turned and crafted brass showed the care and attention that had been absent in the creation and assembly of my own personal manhood.

The purpose and function of some of the devices brought to me were unfathomable, and an odd secretiveness prevailed among my father’s former clients. Amateur scientific pursuits had long been a preoccupation with serious-minded gentlemen of property and leisure, but the ones who came to me were often as uncommunicative as the devices they wished to be repaired. Sextants that devided the sky into angles not found in the usual geometries, microscopes whose hermetically sealed lenses distorted the viewed object into shimmering rainbow images, other instruments whose complexity and manifold adjustments quite overwhelmed my powers of speculation as to their use — all of these had in time been brought into the shop.

—copyright: K.W. Jeter / 1979

Infernal Devices on the Angry Robot website

Written by Gabrielle

July 12, 2011 at 6:11 am

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