||[Dec. 28th, 2009|09:46 pm]
#78: The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
This started me on a pile of steampunk books I've acquired recently. It is the new fashion, after all. The Affinity Bridge follows a special investigator for Queen Victoria, one Mr Newbury, and his new assistant Miss Hobbes as they chase down a mystery surrounding an airship crash.
A quick read without too much depth to the plot, this book was basically steampunk-flavored candy. Tasty candy, though. There were a couple rather satisfying twists in the investigation, including one that rewarded me for something odd I'd noticed earlier (and had though to be a failure on the part of the author rather than deceit on the part of a character). I suspect another book in the series is forthcoming, and I'm looking forward to that one.
#79: Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust
It's a Dragaera book, but neither Vlad nor Khaavren. Rather, Brokedown Palace focuses on the crumbling residence of the King of Fenario (one of the Eastern kingdoms, i.e. populated by Easterners/humans rather than Dragaerans/elves). It's completely different than anything else I've read of Brust's, but all the same I enjoyed the tale, particularly for some of the background information (and other viewpoints) it gave on certain events in the main Dragaera storylines.
I really need to reread the Vlad books sometime.
#80: Mainspring by Jay Lake
The universe is clockwork. The Earth rolls along its orbit by virtue of the great brass cogs erupting from the Equator to mesh with the orbital track laid out around the lamp of the Sun - the Creator's handiwork writ in broad strokes across the sky. It has been nineteen centuries since the Brass Christ appeared on earth, and now the Archangel Gabriel appears to a clockmaker's apprentice and charges him with a divine duty: to find the Key Perilous and rewind the mainspring of the Earth.
The very idea of the setting grabbed my attention when I heard of it, and the worldbuilding is by far the most impressive aspect of the novel. The plot defies my general notions of pacing; for much of the book the protagonist seems to just be getting bounced from one situation to another with very little control over his trajectory. But this means that by the time he figures out what he needs to do, he's pretty well equipped in knowledge and circumstance to actually act on it.
My big complaint about this book, though, is that for a universe that seems largely mechanistic, there's an awful lot of supernatural action-at-a-distance going on. "Magic", you might say. I suppose I should have expected that from a book where the very first scene displays the direct intervention of the Divine, but it still felt a bit off to me.
#81: Escapement by Jay Lake
The next book in the series - it's a sequel, but picks up a couple of the secondary characters from the previous book (and one new one) and runs with them as a shifting trio of viewpoint characters, scattered across the world and intersecting here and there. Again, the pacing of the plot is weird - minor climaxes and denouements happening in odd places, readers' expectations set up and then defied - but it just seems to be part of the author's style, and it does suit the kind of story he wants to tell, here.
Paolina Barthes - the new character - is a brilliant firebrand of a girl, desperate to get off of the tiny, patriarchally-run island she was born on. She really appealed to me as a character, though her preternatural engineering capabilities seemed a bit overdone at times. She's not exactly a Mary Sue type of character, but she does fall into the same sort of "whiz-kid" traps that plagued nearly every scene of TNG that Wesley Crusher ever appeared in.
This book does expand quite a bit on a few of the background plot hooks left hanging after Mainspring, and the ending makes it pretty clear that there's a third book in the works...
#82: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
In 1863, a mad scientist's newly-built mining machine caused an accident somewhere under Seattle - newly flush with Klondike gold - and released some sort of plague gas on the city. Most of the residents were evacuated in time, but the quarantine they tried to enforce wasn't sufficient. The result? A high, unbroken wall around the downtown core, containing a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with a handful of survivors and a whole mess of zombies.
("Rotters", the book's characters call them. They're zombies.)
A decade and a half later, the quarantine remains in effect, the plague gas hasn't dissipated, and a foolish teenage boy tries to sneak in. His mother has to go extract him, and an entertaining romp unfolds through the streets and buildings of old Seattle.
Simply put, I enjoyed the hell out of this one. It was more straightforward than Fathom (the last book of hers I read), but that may be because the characters were a lot more comprehensible. The author does an excellent job portraying her nigh-deserted Seattle - the atmosphere is rich with detail, and the characters blend in perfectly.
#83: New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear
A strung-together collection of short stories, starring the "Great Detective" Sebastien de Ulloa, his apprentice or ward or something Jack Priest, and the debauched alcoholic sorceror-inspector Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, solving supernatural mysteries amidst political intrigue in the British city of New Amsterdam, New Holland, circa 1900.
I don't know what it is about alternate-history Victorian speculative fiction that is so obsessed with the idea of the American colonies failing to revolt, but it seems prevalent. I guess you find what you can to twist around. Anyway, the state of British rule in the colonies is certainly once source of intrigue in these stories, and Sebastien's peculiar predilections - and Abigail Irene's, for that matter - are another...
#84: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
This is from the same historical-time-traveling universe as To Say Nothing of the Dog, one of my favorite books - it even has the same basic premise - but it is as different as a story could be. The inherent differences between TSNotD's light-hearted Victorian manor lifestyle and Doomsday Book's hardscrabble medieval survival are enough to give the latter a desperation that the former never had, and the storyline is comparatively darker in the latter.
I'd thought Connie Willis was primarily a humorous-SF writer, after reading one book and seeing her talk on a panel. Suffice it to say I won't be making that mistake again. Brilliantly done novel, though, and I will be finding more of her work.