The last Boneshaker review

Being the last person in the universe to actually read Boneshaker, the idea of “reviewing” it as though I’d persuade anyone to do so themselves or tell them anything they didn’t already know is absurd. Given that my blog is read exclusively by spambots and a couple of dear souls I haven’t yet successfully convinced that the content won’t actually improve if given time, however, I’ll indulge myself.

If, by some astronomical fluke you A) haven’t read it and B) accidentally found this post, I’d strongly recommend 1) adding it to your reading list immediately or 2) at least use google to locate a more adequate review than this one. My case for this and requisite mildly spoilerish stuff below the fold, as they say.

For reasons that are too dull and take too long to explain, I’ve been trying to read this book for a couple of months, and finally finished rereading it from the beginning a couple of days ago. When I finally had the chance to read it properly, my first impression was that I wouldn’t be able to put it down; my second was that I didn’t want to finish it. I counted chapters, including the ones I read after I’d decided to interrupt myself, and still finished it in two days in spite of this.

But what do I know from steampunk? Sure, I read The Difference Engine, back when it came out following the seminal anthology Mirror Shades. And I wouldn’t patronize even a hypothetical reader by suggesting that they wouldn’t have heard of it’s author, Cherie Priest. But I point this out to emphasize the fact that by the time I finally read it, I’d hyped myself sufficiently to know that my expectations were stacked against it and would add the Clockwork Century series to my “desert island list”.

Other names on that list, for basis of comparison, The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper and the Bill the Galactic Hero series by Harry Harrison, for example. I include these together on a group of criterion, but the most irreducible of these is not character, story, setting or style but sheer charm.

We’re talking Kaylee and Mal, “Shindig” levels of it in Boneshaker. In fact, even if the genre in question didn’t interest someone, one could do worse than recommend it by contrast with whether or not that person liked Firefly. The dialog is quotable and there are many excellent turns of phrase; “as ugly as homemade sin“, for example.

Not that any Whedonite worth their salt would find a strong, female protagonist who passes the Bechtel test out of place, but her son is an actual, young adult and not just a dumbed-down adult whose principle purpose is to provide bad choices to advance the plot. This, in spite of the fact that the plot even hinges on a singular and, let’s just call it “questionable”, decision at the beginning of the book.

The characters, setting and plot are richly imagined in such a way that the fantastic elements dove-tale with the mundane in organic fashion. While Cherie is fond of lyric, unusual names, they don’t serve to color-code the characters, but reflect identity; “the Princess” is a native american from the northwest Salish nation, “Fang” is a Chinese immigrant  and “Lucy O’Gunning” is a bartender with a mechanical arm and a gun attachment.

There is a strange and apocryphal afterward that acknowledges historical and regional differences between the Seattle that appears in Boneshaker versus the reality of the era in which it occurs, but for having them pointed out would say that they either never occurred to me or actually things I didn’t know, myself, and I’m one of the few people in this area who can say that I was born here, same as my father. The city in Boneshaker feels authentic because all the locations are familiar here in the present.

Do zombies belong in science fiction? What made the blight such an interesting part for me was not that the rotters were the result of exposure to it, but the fact that it had been synthesized into a street drug which figures into the appearance of pirates with a dirigible. There are still scads of necrotic-tissued, shambling undead, but they’re one notch smarter than movie-fare and rendered even more menacing by the fact that they live inside a walled section of the Seattle waterfront and encountered primarily in environments like claustrophobic, earthen tunnels and abandoned buildings, where non-blight-tainted air is either at a premium or not at all except with a gas mask.

Not un-ironically, I’d actually read Stross’ blog post before I’d read Boneshaker. In retrospect, I think that someone who attempted to synthesize the way Priest has approached this story into a formula would fail without a similarly unique approach to the narrative. For a genre no one would argue is influenced by appearance, the story concerns itself with providing a rationale for the fantastic without concerning itself with rigorous science. These tropes are provided to establish rules for what is and is not possible within the `verse being presented and suspension of disbelief is accomplished through their observation.

The morning after I finished Boneshaker, I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up Drednought, the second book in the series, and have read just enough to find some familiar names and get a sense of where the story picks up from Boneshaker. And on that note, I’m going to post this and continue reading it.

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  • Comments (1)
    • jane
    • November 15th, 2010

    oooh, going to check Boneshaker out! thanks … you see you are not the last person in the universe to read it …

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