Read Recently — February 2010– Airships, Clockwork, and Stranger Things

Escapement by Jay Lake

Sequel to Mainspring. In a world which goes around its sun on a clockwork track, the northern hemisphere is cut off from the south by a massive wall that supports the gears around the equator. The wall reaches too high into the atmosphere for even airships to fly over, so both China and Britain, the two major powers of this world, are planning to tunnel under.

Threadgill Angus Al-Wazir, the sole known survivor of the airship that took Hethor Jacques, the hero of the last book, south, is recruited to run the British tunnelling effort. There is a mad scientist in charge of the drill itself, and of course the expedition will have a military commander, but Al-Wazir will run interference between the two of them and basically run the camp. Since he thought he was gonna get cashiered, he accepts the offer (and, of course, he wants to help his country succeed).

Librarian Childress, who first believed that Hethor had met an angel and sent him on his journey is pulled from her job by orders of the avebianco, the secret society to which she belongs. Taken by ship towards Europe, she learns that she is be sacrificed as a peace offering to the other conspiracy, the Silent Order, to prevent an open war between the two societies. She is being escorted by a Mask–a high-ranking member of the avebianco–named Poinsard, who is killed, along with almost everyone else aboard the ship, when it is attacked by a Chinese submarine. Childress survives, because the Chinese sailors have mistaken her for Poinsard! It seems that the Mask had another purpose on this journey than taking Childress to be sacrificed . . .

Finally, in a small village on the Wall itself, Paolina Barthes finds a British sailor stranded after the destruction of his airship (see above re: known survivors. As a reward for helping him, he gives her a pocketwatch. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that Paolina is a genius, a wizard with clockwork. When the watch is stolen from her by the jealous men of the village, she builds her own, one which actually measures “the time that beat at the heart of everything”, among other factors. Then, believing that she can learn much from the big cities of Europe, she sets out along the wall, planning to if need be walk all the way to Europe (possible because, since the wall is at the equator, it cuts across Africa). Along the way she meets and befriends a brass man, one of a series brought to the wall, according to their own lore, by King Solomon.

Of course, all of these characters will eventually meet, albeit some of them seem to take the long way around. No one actually gets into the south this time, so there’s no new findings there, but we see a bit more of Chinese society, and learn a lot more about the secret societies who may actually be running things in the north. Recommended, and I’m waiting for the next volume.

Leviathan Rising by Jonathan Green

The sub-liner Neptune, pride of the Carcharodon shipping fleet, is setting out on its maiden voyage, full of the best and brightest of British society, including “Hero of the Empire” Ulysses Quicksilver and Times Social Commentator (gossip columnist), Glenda Finch. The ship will be traveling around the world, under the sea, making stops at a variety of tourist sites including the renowned undersea Atlantis City.

Unfortunately, the trip will not be without problems. First, Glenda Finch is murdered. Then, the ship is sabotaged. Finally, there is the attack of a mysterious tentacled monster, the Leviathan of the title . . .

This was a fun book, and I don’t want to give away too much. I will say that it reminded me of two other stories: the movie Deep Rising, with its sabotaged ship and tentacled monster, and second, the videogame Bioshock, which I happened to be playing while I read the book, with its mostly abandoned undersea city.

I was a little uncertain as to why it was set in 1997 if the technology and political situation where no further advanced than they were in the actual Victorian era. But that’s a minor problem.

Overall, this was a lot of fun and I’d read more set in this world, if I could find them. Recommended.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

In our world, the Klondike Gold Rush did not start in 1850. When it did start, though, Seattle Washington was one of the jumping-off points for it, so it makes sense that if it had started almost fifty years earlier, Seattle would have prospered accordingly. Priest’s other changes to history include the Russians, trying to decide whether Alaska has gold before they sell it to the Americans (or not), calling for inventions to find gold under the ice and snow. An inventor named Leviticus Blue (need I say that a man with a name like that is obviously a mad scientist?) convinces the Russians that he will build the most magnificent drilling machine ever, if they will just advance him a little cash. Blue lives in Seattle. He builds the machine (the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill-Engine) in his basement. And one night, shortly after it’s finished, it runs amok. People are killed. Buildings collapse. Fires start. Several banks full of gold are destroyed. Dr. Blue is never seen again. No one knows if it was an accident, or on purpose. Certainly, the gold was never found.

But that is by no means the worst thing to happen. For as the city tries to rebuild, people start dying of a poisonous gas leaking from the tunnels left by the Drill-Engine. It is heavier than air, invisible unless it builds up a great concentration, and it kills humans. But they don’t necessarily stay dead. Because the gas is heavier than air, it can be held in by walls, so they build a 200-foot tall wall around downtown Seattle, and people who don’t flee the region set about re-making their lives in the outskirts, believing the centre of town to be ruined and lifeless.

And that’s where the book starts.

Briar Wilkes is on her way home from a hard day at work when she is confronted by a reporter, who wants to interview her about her father, Maynard Wilkes, who may have been a hero during the last retreat from Seattle, and may have been unfairly villified since then. Briar doesn’t want to talk about her father. If he was a hero, she doesn’t care. Her son Zeke is perfectly willing to talk to the reporter behind her back, because Zeke wants to rehabilitate his grandfather. Cause if his grandfather was unfairly attacked, his father might be rehabilitated as well. And his father, Briar’s missing and possibly late husband, was Leviticus Blue.

Getting an old gas mask that he barely understands the use of (you put it over your head, yes, but he doesn’t even know about the filters or how to change them) and a variety of other equipment, Zeke sneaks into Old Seattle through an old drain. He plans to find the old family home and, perhaps, clues as to what happened to his father. However, the town is not just inhabited by flesh-eating corpses. There is actually a thriving community, albeit an odd one hiding behind air-tight doors and tunnels. They get some of their supplies from smugglers who come over the wall in airships, but they also get some that can’t be gotten any other way from a mad scientist named Minnericht, whose face is permanently hidden behind a gasmask. And now he’s very interested in Zeke. He wants very much to talk to him.

When Briar learns that Zeke has gone into the city, she fishes out her father’s old equipment–a gasmask, a couple of guns that she takes the time to maintain, his longcoat and hat, etc., and tries to go after him. But the tunnel he went through collapsed in an earthquake, so she has to seek out help from the smugglers. She knows there are people in the downtown; but she doesn’t know about Docter Minnericht . . .

It’s hard to summarize this book without spoiling something or else leaving no sense of suspense. But Briar is exactly the kind of female hero I look for: tough, strong, capable, but (because some people worry about femininity in their heroes) clearly a woman, not a man. And, really: the book has airships, flesh-eating zombies, an excuse for people wearing those damn goggles that steampunks love so much, a mad scientist, and a strong female hero. What’s not to like? Highly recommended.

Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel

Sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker, this story finds Matt starting out by working on Paris’ Celestial Tower, a project the French intend to use to gain access to space. Matt is flying a small airship to move supplies up the tower, and he falls afoul of Babelites, terrorists who oppose all efforts to move into space, but especially the fucking tower (really, they should have expected that). Escaping from that incident, Matt is invited to take part in training for the Canadian effort, which will involve a space elevator (though they don’t call it that). Of course, Matt (eventually) makes it onto the final flight crew, and of course, Kate DeVries finds a way to come along. Will Matt and Kate continue their practise of finding strange life-forms in unusual places? Will there be adventure, with interesting characters? Will the Babelites sneak an agent aboard? Will Matt and Kate’s on-again/off-again romance finally resolve to one state or the other? These questions, etc, etc. The series is YA, but recommended for readers of all ages. HIGHLY recommended.

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