Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Martian Ambassador

Alan K. Baker

London, 1899 It has been six years since the discovery of intelligent life on Mars, and relations between the two worlds are rapidly developing. Three-legged Martian omnibuses stride through the streets and across the landscape, while Queen Victoria has been returned to the vigour of youth by Martian rejuvenation drugs. Victorian computer technology is proceeding apace, thanks to the faeries who power the ‘cogitators’, while the first Æther zeppelins are nearing completion, with a British expedition to the Moon being planned for the following year.
Everything seems to be going swimmingly, until Lunan R’ondd, Martian Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s, dies while attending a banquet at Buckingham Palace. The discovery of strange, microscopic larvae in his breathing apparatus leads Queen Victoria to suspect that he may have been the victim of a bizarre assassination.

This is the first in a series of Steampunk novels featuring secret agent Thomas Blackwood and psychical researcher Lady Sophia Harrington.

It's a bit of a mess. The world into which we are plunged is at first glance that of Wells' War of the World but with benign Martians helping out, computers operated via little fairies that allow contract with the Earth's akashic records and there's an evil Venusian running around killing people whilst yelling "Look at me! I'm a Martian!" so people look to blame the peaceloving and helpful Martians. Like I said, it's a mess. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, urban fantasy, sci-fi, period Lovecraftian horror, Gaiman-esque appropriation of a English fairy lore or none, some or all of the above and so ends up being a hodgepodge of each and unfortunately doesn't have it in it to transcend its limitations.

In its favour though I read this on holiday and it was a bit of fun that I could dip and drop at will and certainly helped laze away the day but I won't be hunting out the second in a hurry.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Finishing School: Etiquette and Espionage

Gail Carriger

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother's existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea--and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right--but it's a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine's certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

The author of the Alexia Tarabotti stories here returns to that world but at a slightly earlier date -about 20 years maybe - to tell the story of a finishing school for assassins.

A fairly daft premise sees the young and troublesome Sophronia packed off to an unknown finishing school where she soon learns that the lessons are a lot more fun than anticipated. She also gets herself embroiled in an escapade around an early aetheric communications device that gives her ample scope for hi-jinks and exploring.

We get to meet some familiar characters along the way and the whole thing has Carrigers characteristic light touch. It's at YA novel so it's a bit light and fluffy but on the whole it's a bit of fun.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Pax Britannia: Evolution Expects

Jonathan Green
(Abaddon Books)

In the closing years of the 20th century the British Empire's rule is still going strong. Queen Victoria is about to celebrate her 160th birthday, kept alive by advanced steam technology. London is a fantastical sprawling metropolis where dirigibles roam the skies, robot bobbies enforce the law and dinosaurs are on display in London zoo. Welcome to Magna Britannia, a steam driven world full of fantastical creations and shady villains. Here dashing dandies and mustachioed villains battle for supremacy while below the city strange things stir in the flooded tunnels of the old London Underground. When a deadly legacy returns, Ulysses Quicksilver finds himself drawn into that pit of despair known as Bedlam. With a dangerous masked vigalante stalking the streets of London, a monster from Jewish myth on the loose in the East End and rival gangs fighting for control of the city's underworld there may be nothing Ulysses can do to prevent a catastrophic metamorphosis!

It has been ages since I read one of these Pax Britannia books and it was a nice surprise just how much I enjoyed it. I looked the others, they were fluffy and silly but generally solid pulp fun. This new one continues on from the breakdown of the government in previous book (Human Nature) as the Prime Minister went postal.

The new PM and the new head of the secret service are trying to reclaim the polluted city and therefore reinvigorate the country. Meanwhile Ulysses is investigating both the appearance of a golem in the east end and the worrying number of people changer into insects hidden away in Bedlam. At the same time there's a new vigilante hero in town with distinct Batman tendencies.

Big, silly and fun. Looking forward to the next one.


Jay Lake
(Tor Books)

Jay Lake's first trade novel is an astounding work of creation. Lake has envisioned a clockwork solar system, where the planets move in a vast system of gears around the lamp of the Sun. It is a universe where the hand of the Creator is visible to anyone who simply looks up into the sky, and sees the track of the heavens, the wheels of the Moon, and the great Equatorial gears of the Earth itself.
Mainspring is the story of a young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is running down, and disaster to the planet will ensue if it's not rewound. From innocence and ignorance to power and self-knowledge, the young man will make the long and perilous journey to the South Polar Axis, to fulfill the commandment of his God.

Mainspring tells of a young man's quest to rewind the eponymous spring at the heart of his clockwork world - yeah, I know. His mission takes him from his home and across the US via hobos and captivity into the air on a dirigible down to the equatorial wall. Across the wall via a giant cog -yeah, I know - after having been kidnapped by flying demon things and meeting an immortal guru not wise enough to know that the guide he gave him was a bit of a dick. Across southern Africa in the company of horny, hairy Neanderthals. Africa, where the only people he encounters are the aforementioned happy go lucky little shaggers and a city of super tall and aloof homicidal magicians. Then, down across the ocean to the south pole on a super dirigible he happens across before restarting the world via the power of love. Yeah, I know.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Top Shelf / Knockabout)

Sixteen years ago, notorious science-brigand Janni Nemo journeyed into the frozen reaches of Antarctica to resolve her father's weighty legacy in a storm of madness and loss, barely escaping with her Nautilus and her life.
Now it is 1941, and with her daughter strategically married into the family of aerial warlord Jean Robur, Janni's raiders have only limited contact with the military might of the clownish German-Tomanian dictator Adenoid Hynkel. But when the pirate queen learns that her loved ones are held hostage in the nightmarish Berlin, she has no choice save to intervene directly, travelling with her ageing lover Broad Arrow Jack into the belly of the beastly metropolis. Within that alienated city await monsters, criminals and legends, including the remaining vestiges of Germany’s notorious ‘Twilight Heroes’, a dark Teutonic counterpart to Mina Murray’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And waiting at the far end of this gauntlet of alarming adversaries there is something much, much worse.
Continuing in the thrilling tradition of Heart of Ice, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill rampage through twentieth-century culture in a blazing new adventure, set in a city of totalitarian shadows and mechanical nightmares. Cultures clash and lives are lost in the explosive collision of four unforgettable women, lost in the black and bloody alleyways where thrive THE ROSES OF BERLIN.

This is the second League of Extraordinary Gentleman spinoff books to feature the exploits of everyone's favourite sub aquatic pirate goes off to Germany to rescue her daughter and her son in law, the air pirate Robur.

The book mixes in The Great Dictator, Metropolis, Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari, She and more to great effect. I've got to say though that if it wasn't for the majesty of Jess Nevins and his explanatory website - - much of it would have been incomprehensible to me as it was written in German and I don't currently have a friendly German to hand..

It's a quest book (of sorts) and as such is a little thin on plot but what there is is typical Moore and there is plenty of distraction in the always beautiful art from O'Neill who as ever brings the most absurd worlds to life in stunning, awe inspiring and eye popping glory.

Not the best of them but still wonderful.

Nemo: Heart of Ice

Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
(Top Shelf / Knockabout)

It's 1925, fifteen long years since Janni Dakkar first tried to escape the legacy of her dying science-pirate father, only to accept her destiny as the new Nemo, captain of the legendary Nautilus. Now, tired of her unending spree of plunder and destruction, Janni launches a grand expedition to surpass her father's greatest failure: the exploration of Antarctica. Hot on her frozen trail are a trio of genius inventors, hired by the megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane to retrieve the plundered valuables of an African queen. It's a deadly race to the bottom of the world - an uncharted land of wonder and horror where time is broken and the mountains bring madness.

A very unexpected surprise when this appeared. I'd heard that they were going to do these spin-offs but I wasn't expecting one to turn up this soon.

What we have is a missing tale of the second Captain Nemo and her attempt to traverse Antarctica in the footsteps of her father. In pursuit of her and her crew is a trio of American adventurers in the employ of Charles Foster Kane and Ayesha (the Queen from 'She'). On their disastrous journey they discover various Lovecraftian locations and creatures.

It's a fairly slight (by Moore's terms) little romp but one that adds layers to the character of Janni (Nemo) and very nicely bridges the gap between the vengeful Janni of the first volume of 'Century' and the mellower mature one that turned up later.

I've loved all the League stories and this one was no exception.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Doctor Who: Imperial Moon

Christopher Bulis
BBC Books

The TARDIS materializes on the far side of the moon and the time safe alarm goes off. Inside is a diary kept by a Captain Richard Halliwell, describing his mission from Earth to the Moon -- in the year 1878. The TARDIS returns to 1878 where the Doctor meets up with the expeditions and the remains of the massacred team member are discovered. The Doctor must find the alien creature responsible for the murder and solve why there is no record of Victorian space travel.

The phrase ‘British Imperial Spacefleet’ on the back of a book is always going to catch my eye. This is the first of the PDA books that I’ve read and I chose it because of that phrase. That the book is set in 1878 certainly didn’t hurt its chances of being pulled off the shelf.

The Doctor (travelling with Turlough & Kamelion) find a diary in the TARDIS safe that tells the story of the mission to the moon and makes mention of the Doctor & Turlough. They head back for a look-see and are soon part of a rescue attempt across a strange oasis on the moon filled with strange and deadly creatures and beautiful ladies in scant clothing. There’s a mutiny and a warder to deal with before things get really nasty and the Doctor resorts to gun-play to eliminate the marauding Vralls who were there in hiding.

It was a typically Doctor type book with no real suspense but lots of running around a fairly unorthodox setting. It was fun but not essential.