Read Recently — August 2014 — Strange New Worlds

Pinion by Jay Lake

Sequel to Mainspring (here) and Escapement (here). Poalina Barthes, the watchmaking hero of the second book, makes her way over the wall that divides the earth and provides a track for the mighty brass gears that move it around the sun. She hopes to find a place where there are no other humans for her to kill accidentally by using her power. She does not expect to meet a living saint in the form of Hethor, the hero of the first book; nor does she expect to meet a magician who might be able to teach her to control her power.

Boaz, the brass man who Paolina comes slowly to realize she loves, is stuck in Africa on the north side of the wall, trying to get back to his people now that he fears Paolina is lost to him forever (Brass (as they call themselves) aren’t supposed to have feelings. They also aren’t supposed to have names. Paolina seems to have given him both (though it is also possible Boaz is some sort of gear-driven mutant; there are hints)), especially once he discovers a secret that will be valuable to the Brass. But first, he must help the stranded crew of a Chinese airship get out of Africa; then help the crews of not one but two britsh airships find first the base of the mad scientist trying to tunnel his way under the Wall. Before he knows it, he’s on his way to England, on a mission that could be the end of him.

Librarian Childress, now Mask Childress, finds herself growing into her self-appointed role. She finds herself forced to lead a Chinese submarine into European waters to try to bring an end to a war developing between Britain and China. The Silent Order, the conspiracy opposing the Avebianco (to which Childress belongs; what each conspiracy stands for I do not at this point know; if it is anything other than opposing each other I have forgotten it in the long gaps between books) sends Chinese cartographer Wang (who met her in the last book) to find her and bring her back to them. Wang is sent on a ghost ship and bedeviled by a female monk who may be hiding in plain sight or might be something more than that.

British Admiralty special clerk Bernard Kitchens is sent out to investigate the above-mentioned wall-digging mad scientist; before he goes he is privileged to meet the real Queen Victoria, rather than one of the actors who portrays her on the world stage. The Queen gives Kitchens a secret mission of her own, into which Kitchens will soon draw all our players.

This presumably closes off the stories of the clockwork Earth, Lake having died this past summer. I quite enjoyed the whole thing, and highly recommend it; an imaginative, unique world that still resembles our own enough to be comprehensible, a lot of female characters with agency, and a fair number of non-white characters. You shouldn’t start here, though, you should start with Mainspring.

The Case For Mars: the plan to settle the red planet and why we must by Robert Zubrin with Richard Wagner

Zubrin is an aeronautic and astronautic engineer who used to work for Lockheed Martin back in the day. He has, as the title suggests, strong opinions on the necessity and methodology of going to Mars (rather than, say, the moon). He argues (convincingly, I think) that it can be done with modern or near-modern technology and also puts out his views on what the mission objectives should be. He is, I think, a little too cavalier in brushing aside potential dangers, especially on the psychological end, but there’s some thought-provoking stuff here that could, maybe, put humans on Mars before we go extinct.

Mildly recommended.

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