A foray into Dieselpunk

Courtesy of goodreads.comMy go-to genres of books are Urban Fantasy and Steampunk. Obviously, considering my posts. But every so often I’ll venture outside my comfortable little world with sci-fi, straight fantasy (you know, knights and castles etc) and now, dieselpunk.

I just finished reading The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, an anthology of dieselpunk stories edited by Sean Wallace. I’ve never read dieselpunk before and the fact that the era is right in my historical wheelhouse (yeah, I’m a historian by schooling) and the awesome cover made me pick this bad boy up.

Like any anthology, there are good and bad stories. Some of the stories in the book are more like novellas than real short stories. That’s fine. But the all of these stories seemed just…too post-apocalyptic. Now, given the wide ranging time frame I felt this covered (WWI through WWII), that’s understandable. And yet…I really feel that it doesn’t have to be. There was so much going on in that time frame that was of a hopeful or fun nature: like Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart (before she disappeared), the advent of race culture (both cars and planes).

It was a little darker and a little more depressing than I thought it would be given the cover. The 1920s, 30s and 40s are the height of pulp fiction and radio shows. There’s so much that authors could do with it, I feel that these stories sort of missed that. I was kind of hoping for stories that were a bit more along the likes of The Rocketeer than A Farewell to Arms.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read more dieselpunk if I could find something, it just means that perhaps that book wasn’t the best introduction to the genre, at least for me. So if you like dieselpunk, this would probably be worth the read. There’s a bunch of stories in there. If not, give it a miss. There are other anthologies out there. If anyone has a suggestion for a dieselpunk book to read, I’m all eyes.

Rating: C+. Being a historian, there were a couple of stories where I was heartily impressed by the author’s attention to detail, such as the one with the Japanese internment camps from WWII America. Other than that, I might just donate this book to the local library.

Crown & Key

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo I troll through Amazon Kindle books on the reg to see if I can find anything that catches my fancy, especially when I’m between novels on my favorite series (Dresden Files, any and all Simon R Green etc). I picked up this steampunk novel The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key by Clay and Susan Griffith. I wasn’t really able to figure out in this book if magic and such was on the DL  or if it was well known but considered ‘suspect’ (i.e.-practitioners are thought of in the terms of gypsies and such were at that time, an unwanted peoples). It certain seemed that everyone that our main character, Simon Archer, met was aware of magic on some level. But this is a first novel, so I give a little leeway on the world building ambiguity.

So, Simon Archer is a mage. Not just any mage, but a scribe. Supposedly he is the last one. From what I’m able to gather, scribes work magic through writing down spells and then speaking an activating word. Simon has taken this a little further and tattooed useful spells on his body. Therefore, all he has to do is speak the activating word to do the spells. The problem with magic in this world though is that if you use too much, you get ‘aether drunk’ (seems like an uber high, giggly feeling as it’s described).

Simon is a playboy. The illegitimate son of a scribe in some sort of protective society that seems to have fallen apart, Simon has made himself a bit of a name in the social scene. It isn’t unusual to see him at a party, even if he isn’t invited. This sort of lifestyle is all well and good for him until an old friend gets murdered by a werewolf right in front of him. She’d been trying to ask him for help regarding said werewolf but she was just a bit too late.

To try and get a little revenge, he crashes a very high society party (Prime Minister high) to confront the werewolf, a Peer whose name I have forgotten. Simon confronts him, gets in a fight and is helped out by a Lady by the name of Kate Anstruther. A self professed Alchemist, Kate has no time for societal games. She is much too logical to be swayed by some idiot lord trying to get in her knickers. She’s only there because her younger sister Imogene is a society person and it isn’t proper for a young lady to go out alone.

This fight brings together Simon, Simon’s teacher Nick Barker, and Kate in a race to figure out not only what’s going on but to save Kate’s sister. Imogene falls for the wrong sort (natch, always the way these things go) and it leads to a host of trouble. Throw in a Scottish werewolf hunter, a tinkerer named Penny and an evil doctor and you have a nice little mix.

I quite enjoyed this book. I kept waiting for Kate to go all helpless damsel and it didn’t really happen. The only time she did get a little stereotypically weepy woman was when she was strapped down to a gurney and both she and her sister threatened with extreme bodily harm. I personally feel that is quite an acceptable circumstance for your strong female (or male) lead to have a bit of a breakdown. I’m still deciding if I want to move onto book 2 of this series but I think its definitely worth a read. Rating: B, solid but not outstanding. Also, they never really got to why it was subtitled “Crown & Key”…

One-Eyed Jacks are Wild

Courtesy of elizabethbear.com. Open for full image.I love a good personification story. I find it interesting to see what an author can do with the idea that a city is literally alive, where there is one (or more) person who is the city. In the case of the world in One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear, most major cities have a genius (commonly referred to in fantasy novels as genius loci) that represent the idea of the city.

As you may have guessed from the title, One-Eyed Jack takes place in Las Vegas. Vegas has two geni, the One-Eyed Jack (Yes, his name is Jack-well, John Henry Kinkead-and yes, he has one eye) and the Suicide King (whose name is Stewart). They, like other geni, were once living humans who had a tie to the city they are bound to. That could mean anything from they were born there to dying there to being a significant part of the culture there (No, neither of Vegas’ loci are or were Elvis or Frank Sinatra).

I think that this book is part of a world but not necessarily part of a series. Its a little unclear because its called a novel of the “Promethean Age” but when I look up Elizabeth Bear’s other novels with that subtitle, their blurbs don’t mention Jack, Stewart or Vegas. In any case, some of the world building ideas seem to be already set in place, like mages being called Prometheans and having been wiped out (it sounds like mages are just bad news in this world. Again, don’t know why).

This book starts out with Jack and Stewart at the Hoover Dam. Something is up with the dam, it has some sort of hold on both Vegas and Los Angeles, beyond just the power of the Colorado River. Jack is convinced that this is a bad thing and tries to fix it. He uses Stewart, his partner in all senses of the word, the job of distracting the masses while he tries to put a date on a blank plaque of some sort on the dam.

Before he can do anything, Stewart “dies” from having thrown himself from the dam and missed actually killing himself (not that the Suicide King can kill himself because apparently that’s the only way he can’t die. Nice twist) and a genuis from Los Angeles interrupts Jack. Called Goddess, she is the personification of everyone who has tried and failed to make it in Hollywood.

Goddess and her sister genuis, Angel (the personification of the seedy underbelly of LA with a veneer of innocence), are up to something. Jack wants to know what but his curiosity gets him and Stewart in trouble. With the help of a couple ghosts (Doc Holliday and John Henry of steel driving fame), some “media ghosts” (They never come out and say it but I think the media ghosts were the two guys from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and John Steed and Emma Peel from the Avengers) and a vampire named Tribute (also referred to as King and connected with LA and Vegas. Take a wild guess…Yes, you’re correct), Jack has to figure out what they’re up to and stop it.

Now the ideas behind this story were interesting. The genius loci, Prometheans, media ghosts, all pretty cool stuff. The writing itself could use some work. I’ve seen the technique of doing each chapter from a different character’s point of view (All of the Cal Leandros novels for instance) but this one was confusing because several of the main characters in the book didn’t have names. They were called the American, the Russian, the Widow, the Englishman and the Assassin. And there might have even been two Englishmen being referred to. It all got very confusing at times.

So if the writing got polished a little more and the novels continue with these characters, it could be pretty darn awesome. As it is, I just finished the book because I’d started it. I wasn’t really all that interested in the ending because I figured it pretty quickly. That’s not a knock to the writer. I just tend to figure out these things quickly. It took me less than half the movie to figure out that Bruce Willis was a ghost in The Sixth Sense (spoilers? Really, if you haven’t heard about that “twist” ending by now, it’s not my fault). Good ideas, like the fact that the main characters are a gay couple, love the media ghosts but overall…nothing to write home about and I’m glad I got it for all of three bucks (yay Kindle!). Rating: C-/C. Could be your cup of tea but it wasn’t really mine.

Jane Yellowrock: Dark Heir

Courtesy of goodreads.comOnce more, I’m going to have to put a SPOILERS warning on this. Since this book is the latest in the Jane Yellowrock series, it hasn’t been out too long.

Okay, so this is take two. I wrote out this whole thing and…it didn’t publish. *sigh* So, Dark Heir is Faith Hunter’s latest Jane Yellowrock novel. We come into it with Jane and her partner, Eli and Alex Younger, prepping the New Orleans vamps for their upcoming (though when exactly is unknown) meeting with an entourage from the Europeans Mithrans (yeah, I don’t really like that term for vampires. Why gussy it up?). They’re doing pretty well, things are relaxed, which is naturally when things go to shit.

New Orlean Master of the City, Leo Pellisier, is keeping a secret in the basement. One that’s a bit of an open secret among the vamps and the reason the Europeans are sending an entourage. Chained in one of his sub basements (clearly enchanted to keep out water since New Orleans is below the water table) is the original vamp. The son of Judas Iscariot (not the first time I’ve seen this sort of theme but not quite used enough to be trope-y either), Joses Bar-Judas is the progenitor and therefore the strongest with the strongest blood.

Leo keeps him chained and starved in the basement to feed off from. Joses is clearly gone round the twist at some point as evidenced by his killing of fifty-two people upon escaping his confinement (with help from some conspirators against Leo). He only fed on a few of them, the rest of them he just killed for the fun of it.

Jane (temporarily) resigns her commission as Leo’s enforcer to take a contract from the city and the state to hunt down Joses and bring back his heart. The trouble is, he’s not only the world’s strongest vamp (and getting stronger the more he consumes blood), he’s a vampire witch. Jane calls on some locals for help and gets a surprise visit from her best friend Molly Trueblood (I think…Maybe it’s Everhart? Can’t remember and too lazy to open the book up again right now), a witch from the Tennessee area.

Since this book is relatively new, I won’t do a play-by-play. Suffice it to say, there’s thrills and chills (I just had to. It was right there), chases and near misses. The thing I really like is that even though Jane is in a somewhat steady relationship with honorio George (better known as Bruiser), Faith Hunter hasn’t turned her into a damsel in distress. So many writers start out with strong female characters who “don’t need no man” but eventually get with a man and all of a sudden, they can’t do anything without said man. If they’re hurt, they need the man to care for them and get pissed if he doesn’t. If they were a no sex until marriage type, they’re suddenly porn worthy in how much sex they’re having (I’m looking at you Anita Blake).

Jane has been and looks like she always will be (knock on wood), a kick ass woman. She saves herself, even when it looks like she’s about six inches from death. And then she ends up saving the city/state/world.  Awe. Some. So do yourself a favor and pick up these books. You don’t have to read the other books in order to get this one, but it certainly helps. Rating: A.