2013 Get Steampunk’d Reading Challenge

My newest review: Gilded: The St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper.

This turned out to be a second book in the series and unfortunately, I think I might have missed some information about the heroine so it felt a bit confusing. The heroine is both an abused orphan *and* a rich heiress?? On the other hand, I really liked the setting and that the plot moved very quickly rather than dragging certain points *cough*romance*cough* over several books.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Narrator: Nicky Barber, Shash Hira, Gerald Price
Running Time: 3 hrs, 09 min

Steampunk Holmes was adapted from the “Adventure of the Bruce-Partington plans”. The story starts in a very similar way but later, Martin has added chase scenes and a shootout and the ending is different, too. However, the main change is in the setting and some of the characters.

Mycroft Holmes contacts Sherlock to get his aid. It seems that the plans for the submarine Nautilus have been stolen and they are urgently needed back, or at least away from enemy hands. Sherlock agrees to investigate with the help of Doctor Watson.

In this universe, Watson has a bionic arm, replacing the one he lost in a war and Mycroft is an energetic, beautiful woman working in the highest levels of British government. Sherlock loves to drive too fast on his motorized bicycle, the Widow maker, and his burglary kit contains tools with which he can take over any Babbage engine.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. The ending felt a bit rushed but the book is pretty short.

Pretty much my only complaint is that Mycroft was changed too much. In the books, he’s a lazy fat man. I don’t know why the writer had to make the female Mycroft extraordinary beautiful. She’s also a very good shot and doesn’t mind leaving her office. In essence, her only resemblance to Mycroft was the name. I find myself in the peculiar position that I quite liked her as a character and most likely if she had been an original character I would have been delighted to meet her. But she’s not Mycroft.

The audiobook has three narrators, two men and one woman. They did an excellent job for the most part. However, for some reason Watson’s voice sounded like it came from a tube or a distance, which was a bit weird.

The second book in the Oswald Bastable trilogy.

Publication year: 1974
Format: print
Page count: 193
Publisher: Titan Books

The second book in the series starts with a short introduction where Moorcock supposedly finds his grandfather’s notes. His grandfather, also called Michael Moorcock, went to China to look for Bastable whom he met in the first book. The elder Moorcock’s adventures in China take up about 50 pages.

The rest of the rather short book is divided into two books, “the World in Anarchy” and “the Battle for Washington”. Bastable really wants to return to his own time and world, and so he stows away on a ship and returns to Teku Benga where his journey through time started. He manages to stumble onto another journey through time. At first, he thinks he has returned to his own world, but to his horror he soon finds out that this is not the case.

For a short time, this new alternate world was an utopia. Manuel O’Bean, an inventor from Chile, single-handedly ended poverty from the world because he invented and built a lot of different machines to help people. He also invented powerful energy sources so that the people of the world aren’t suffering because the machines can’t run. However, when the next generation grew up, they weren’t simply content to live with enough food and education, but wanted to control their own fates, in other words, they wanted to be part of governments. So, wars started, inside countries and between them. By the time Bastable arrives, most of Europe has been bombed to ground and diseases have also destroyed the population. The USA is in a similar state. The Western world has essentially been destroyed. The biggest powers left are the Australaasian-Japanese Federation and the Ashanti Empire in Africa. The Ashanti Empire is led by General Cicero Hood who wants to dominate over all white people because of what they have done to the blacks in the past.

Bastable meets a submarine captain who invites him to live on the high seas. However, even their days as privateers are soon over and they seek employment from one of the few neutral countries, Bantustan, which is lead by President Mahatma Gandhi who wants to show the world an example on how people can live in peace even during such an horrible time.

Much like the first book in the series, the narrator tells us a lot of things instead of showing them. The start of Bastable’s narration is pretty much several pages of infodump about the history of this world and later, we are also told about various other histories, diseases and such. To be fair, a lot of the things said in the infodumps are so horrible that I probably wouldn’t have been able to stomach a thousand page book about war, especially about biological warfare. Otherwise, the plot moves along quickly.

Even though several people tell Bastable that England is a wasteland, he wants to see for himself and finds out that things are pretty horrible. Many have died of diseases and the survivors are often disfigured. They have apparently forgotten their backgrounds completely and live in small groups which hunt each other. And in the USA white people have turned against the blacks and made them slaves again. The only decent place in this world seems to be Bantustan.

The book shows us extreme racism and what Europe could look like after a devastating war which borders on Apocalypse. The usual power politics are turned on their ear: most of the whites are savages living in the ruins of cities (and even those who aren’t literally savages are abusing other people cruelly) while the blacks, led by General Hood, are the civilized and sophisticated people and Gandhi seems to be the only decent man left in the world. Bastable himself is an honorable British gentleman who is trying to survive in this world. At first, he automatically sides with the whites but he learns quickly that things are often different from what he assumes. Moorcock’s grandfather is a pretty elitist, which I assume is quite fitting for apparently well-to-do British white man in the beginning of 1900s.

Some of the characters are familiar from the previous book. Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) was an airship captain in Warlord of the Air but here he’s much younger and a submarine captain. (Apparently the word submarine hasn’t been invented yet, so Moorcock uses underwater boats.) Una Persson is also a returning character and apparently Moorcock uses her in other books, too. He also uses several famous people here: Mahatma Gandhi, P. J. Kennedy, and Herbert Hoover are easy to spot. Al Capone is also in a couple of scenes although in my version his name was Caponi. Moorcock also briefly thinks about sending Bastable’s manuscript to H. G. Wells.

The first book in an alternate history SF trilogy.

Publication year: 1972
Format: print
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Page count: 234
Finnish translator: Laura Nieminen
Publisher of the translation: Vaskikirjat

This book reads a lot like the old pulp books. In fact, it reminded me of E. R. Burroughs’ Barsoom books. The story has a framing story: Moorcock’s grandfather left behind a manuscript which
Moorcock, the author, received and has now published.

In 1903 the grandfather was sent to Rowe Island to recover from too much work and met a strange man who told the older Moorcock his story and Moorcock wrote it down. The strange man in question is Oswald Bastable, a former lieutenant in the British army. An insurrection was brewing near the borders of the British India in 1902 and Bastable is sent there with a contingent of Indian soldiers to try to find a solution to it. The place they’re sent to is called Teku Benga which is supposedly a cradle of ancient civilizations and has a large army of fierce warriors. They are led by a high priest, Sharan Kang, who invites Bastable and a couple of his soldiers inside. Teku Benga turns out to be a filthy place but with fierce warriors. Apparently, Kang drugs Bastable and his men. They manage to escape into endless caves under the ancient temple Kang brought them to. Then some mysterious force knocks Bastable unconscious.

When he awakes, he feels very weak but manages to get out of the caves. Outside, the temple lies in ruins and seems to be abandoned. Bastable can only find a few skeletons. Then, a huge airship flies over the place and Bastable is able to get the crew’s attention. They rescue him but to his shock, Bastable finds out that it’s now the year 1973.

At first, this alternate 1973 seems like an utopia: in England, people are well off, wages are high, and the cost of living is low. No major wars have been waged in a hundred years. Britain, France, Russia, Japan, United States, and a few other countries are still empires with colonies. Colonialism is said to make the world more stable and therefore a good thing. However, gradually Bastable finds out that all is not well after all.

Bastable is an honorable and patriotic man who doesn’t want to believe that Great Britain could do something wrong. He’s a soldier who wants to serve his country and takes pride in his work. In fact, he greatly reminds me of John Carter.

However, it takes a long time for the plot to start kicking in. Also, in addition to Bastable only two other characters are at all fleshed out and they appear after the halfway point of the book. Mostly, that’s because Bastable travels alone and moves quickly from one place to another. Also, the book’s main aim seem to be social criticism and not adventure. I enjoyed the alternate world a lot and wouldn’t mind reading more about it. I think the book was a bit too short to really dig deep into the world; we are told about the nasty things happening in the colonies but not really shown them and it also wasn’t clear how many ordinary people knew about them.

The book has several real life people cast in different roles than in real life. Sadly, I didn’t catch any of them while reading but luckily Wikipedia has a list of them. However, the Finnish edition apparently used an older edition: Egan instead of Reagan and Howell instead of Powell.

Moorcock criticizes colonialism strongly. The revolutionary characters also have a disagreement over how a revolution is born and should be done.

The first book in the Clockwork Empire steampunk trilogy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 391
Publisher: Roc

Miss Alice Michaels is 22 and still unmarried. Her fiancee, mother and brother have died of the clockwork plague and her father is severely ill. Because Alice’s father is a Baron, she can’t get a job and the only thing she’s good at is making and repairing mechanical automations, which (is another thing) women aren’t supposed to do. She has managed to get an invitation to Greenfellow’s ball which is her last chance of catching a wealthy husband and keeping up appearances. At first, she despairs when it’s clear that everyone shuns her. However, she befriends Louisa Creek, a woman who takes full advantage of her position as a heiress, and she meets Norbert Williamson, a wealthy industrialist who is very interested in her. On the way back from the ball, zombies attack her carriage and she’s saved by a group of people calling themselves the Third Ward. Even though the police has given up on fighting the zombies, because they don’t want to get infected, these people fight the zombies. Alice helps them and wishes briefly that she could join them. However, her father is ill and has a lot of debts, so her only choice, in the eyes of the society and herself, is to catch on wealthy husband.

Gavin Ennock is a cabin boy on the airship Juniper. He’s been a cabin boy for years and knows airships inside out, but he can’t become a full airman until on his 18th birthday, which is in just a few days. Unfortunately, the Juniper is attacked by air pirates. The crew is killed and the only thing that saves Gavin is his skill with the violin. He’s also an excellent singer and has perfect pitch. Eventually, he manages to escape but he’s lost his job and has to suddenly support himself in the streets of London. He’s from a poor family who lives in Boston.

Alice and Gavin are quite different. Not only are they of different status in the eyes of society but they’ve also been taught different things about themselves. Alice has known all her life that her only worth in through marriage and that she’s interested in the wrong things because of her gender. So, she has learned to lie and keep her real feelings a secret. Her duty is towards her father. Gavin has worked hard to achieve was he really wants and his duty is to the airship and the crew. He has no reason to lie. Their outlooks on life are quite different.

Because Alice has such a strong sense of duty towards her father and towards their place in society, she isn’t eager to head into adventure and an uncommon lifestyle. Because many of Britain’s men have died because of the plague, women have had to step up. Women who were married to members of the Parliament, who became ill, voted in place of their husbands. Women even got suffrage but still the society at large looks down on women who use their right to vote. They are called Ad Hoc women and Alice’s conservative father is strongly against them. So, for most of the novel, Alice waffles between her duty and her desire for a more exciting and meaningful life. Some readers most likely find that boring but I found it realistic.

The world is quite interesting. The whole world is suffering from the clockwork plague which makes people sick. The sick people are contagious so others avoid them. The sick people also seem to have a need to infect others, so they attack the healthy ones. They are sensitive to sunlight and are called zombies. However, some rare people don’t become zombies but clockworkers: they are geniuses in their own field but inevitably they will become mad and die in a few years.

The Third Ward is a shadowy organization whose purpose is to corral the clockworkers. The Ward gives the clockworkers a safe place to work in and also keep them from the general public, keep the other people safe. The Doomsday Vault is the place where they keep all of the inventions which are way too dangerous to ever use.

The clockworkers and the plague affect every country. In India, for example, the clockworkers are stoned alive which in China they are revered and given materials to work. That’s why China has advanced inventions which might make them the strongest country in the world some day.

The Doomsday Vault is an entertaining book. I even enoyed the inevitable romance.

A novelization of the first three graphic novels of the Girl Genius. The comic is available for free online: http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, Kindle
Publisher: Night Shade Books

The novel is very loyal to the comic. Most of the time it follows the comic panel for panel. I’ve been a fan of the comic for a few years and love it. However, I’m not sure how accessible this novel is if you haven’t read the comic.

Agatha Clay is student at the Beetleburg University and an assistant to one of the professors. However, she’s also absent-minded and clumsy. She lives with her step parents who are constructs. One day, Baron Wulfenbach, who has ruthlessly conquered most of Europa, comes to town with his soldiers. Two of them rob Agatha of her necklace and strange things start to happen to her: her mind feels clearer but she also starts to sleep walk, in her nightclothes. The Baron kidnaps Agatha to his airship and she’s introduced to a wider world, while getting to know herself.

I adore the Girl Genius world. It’s a steampunk alternate world where some people have supernatural powers to construct mechanical things. Unfortunately, these people, called Sparks, tend to ran amok, building weapons and destroying people around them. So, Baron Wulfenbach has taken it upon himself to capture the Sparks, let them work, and, well, contain the destruction. However, the Baron is also interested in knowing just how and why Sparks are born, so he dissects them to learn more.

The Baron has very interesting people on his airship. There’s his son Gilgamesh who is a Spark and almost as ruthless as his father and various constructs, including the Jägermonsters who can be either funny or terrifying, depending on the scene. They talk in a horrible German accent which is pretty much the only thing I don’t care about in the comic. Sadly, it’s even more pronounced in the novel. Then there are the students who are either hostages or future Sparks or both.

On the background, and sometimes the foreground, there are stories of the Heterodyne boys who were the heroes of this world until they vanished. Some people are still waiting for them to return, while some think they’ve never existed at all.

I enjoy the characters as much as the world. Agatha herself is a pretty typical heroine: stubborn but loyal to her friends but she’s also a genius inventor who has a fascination with machines. The Baron turns out to have actual motivations and he’s very funny when he’s trying to do work and is constantly being interrupted by incompetent underlings and/or stuff blowing up. And of course Othar Tryggvassen! He’s the Gentleman Adventurer and he talks like a pulp fiction hero. The Baron has captured him and he’s trying to escape while trying forcibly to take Agatha has his plucky sidekick. On the other hand, Bangladesh DuPree is a through villain: enjoying torture and mayhem. And then there’s the talking cat…

The novel is entertaining, of course, but none of the gadgets are explained and most of the lingo is also unexplained. This works in the comic because you can see the gadgets and get other visual clues but perhaps not to well in the novel, especially if you haven’t read the comic. So, go and read it!

My next reading challenge for 2013:

About: The Get Steampunk’d Reading Challenge is all about Steampunk! Read anything as long as it has that Steampunk theme, with steam-powered gadgets, dirigibles, and punked up Victorian dress.

Steampunk Examples: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, The Difference Engine by William Gibson.
The Finer Deets

Running dates for all 2013 challenges: 1st of January – 31st of December 2013
Sign-Ups are accepted until the 16th of December 2013.
Formats: All BA Challenges are eBook, audio, short story, and graphic novel friendly.
Crossovers: You’re welcome to crossover with BA’s challenges. Include as many books across all the challenges as you can, I always say.

How To Sign-Up and Join In

1, Choose Your Level: Choose a challenge level listed below.
2, Sign Up Post: Create a post on your blog, in a group, or on a forum (where possible) to let others see what you’re aiming for (a predefined list of books is optional).
3, Grab The Badge: Download or grab the badge and place it in your sign up post. Then link back to BA’s Get Steampunk’d Challenge. Grab me!Bookish Ardour.
4, Link Up: Grab the direct URL to your sign up post, not your blog, click the Mr Linky graphic and enter your link.
5, Blogless? Don’t worry, you can sign up with your social network profile (YouTube, Twitter, GoodReads, Shelfari included), just make sure you link to your review list, shelf, tweet, or category. If you don’t have any of those feel free to comment.
6, Your Reviews: Reviewing is optional! But if you do review it would be great for you to share them by submitting them on the review page.
7, Finished: When you’re done it’s completion post time and you can share these on the completion/wrap-up page.

Challenge Levels
Geared – Choose 5 books to read
Cogged – Choose 15 books to read
Goggle Mad – Choose 30 books to read
Victorian Lord/Lady – Choose 50 books to read
Inventor – Choose 75 books to read
Zephyr Pilot – Choose 76-135 books to read
Steampunk’d – Choose 136-200 books to read

I’m going easy on myself and choose Geared: 5 books.

1, Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio: Agatha H. and the Airship City
2, Steven Harper: The Doomsday Vault
3, Michael Moorcock: The Warlord of the Air
4, Michael Moorcock: The Land Leviathan
5, P. C. Martin: Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus
6, Karina Cooper: Gilded

I read one more book than my goal but surprisingly, I read only one book from my TBR. This means, of course, that I have to read some more steampunk in 2014.

Reading pool:
M. K. Hobson: Native Star
Steven Harper: Doomsday Vault
Mammoth Book of Steampunk, edited by Sean Wallace
James P. Blaylock: Lord Kelvin’s Machine
Kenneth Oppel: Airborn
Clay and Sussan Griffith: The Greyfriar
The next Cherie Priest book