Sunday, January 25, 2009

Steampunk detectives

I am a huge steampunk fan for all sorts of obvious reasons: cool retro Victorian settings, awesome clothes, and wicked cool planes, trains and automobiles (among many other awesome inventions). I just finished a book and graphic novel which are both not only firmly set in steampunk settings but also include main characters based on Sherlock Holmes. The mix makes for great reading in both these cases and two books that I can easily recommend.

First up is The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives by James Blaylock. This collection of short stories and two novels follows St. Ives, scientist and member of the Explorers Club, as he battles his arch nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. Recounted by Jack Owlesby, who is introduced in the first story "The Ape's Box" and assists St. Ives in adventures both on earth, in space and back in time, the stories carry all the requisite intrigue of a Sherlock Holmes mystery but carry an extra layer of menace as they are less ruled by the laws of physics (as we know them anyway). In one of my favorites, "Two Views of a Cave Painting", Blaylock pokes fun at expectations writing, "Time travel isn't news anymore. Mr. H. G. Wells has put it to good use in a book which the casual reader would doubtless regard as ficton."

There is a lot of running around fog-shrouded London, hiding things, discovering things, battling zombies, and people who have been driven crazy but maybe aren't. With J.K. Potter's startling realistic illustrations, the collection is exactly what you would want from the combination of Dickens and Wells (and I mean that in the most modern language kind of way). Supremely cool.

In Warren Ellis's Aetheric Mechanics, Doctor Robert Watcham has returned home from war to rejoin the work of his dear friend, the esteemed investigator Sax Raker. Watcham is still suffering from his battle experiences but gamely jumps into the latest murder to grip London (after being flown back to his lodgings in some sort of hovering device and being regaled about the latest space battles of course). In short order Raker observes a body, discovers a spy and unlocks a plot to take over the world (or at least London). In the midst of all this the city is being bombed by Ruritania and Raker finds himself being inexorably drawn into the war (something he finds to be most pedestrian). There is a HUGE twist ending that then has an awesome double twist that is pure Ellis. The artwork is full of all sorts of steampunkery goodness along with everything you would expect from a Holmesian character. I also liked the addition of Watcham with his war-time flashbacks and realistic PTSD.

If you like steampunk both of these titles will be winners and I can't recommend them enough.


A Paperback Writer said...

I had never heard of steampunk before I read this. So I did what the average, red-blooded American does: I checked wikipedia.
I so had no clue.
This looks bizarre and fascinating. I shall have to read something from this subgenre. I think I'll start with one of your suggestions.

Colleen said...

Steampunk is awesome! It's a ton of fun, especially if you like airships and crazy rocket-type inventions.

It's basically retro-science fiction...if that makes any sense.