Friday, October 29, 2010

Erica’s Five Adventures in Steampunk

Already you’re looking at me funny and I didn’t even do anything. I just said "steampunk" and you were all: huh? And I was all: you know, it’s kind of like a futuristic vision of the world based on a distinctly Victorian version of the future peopled with fantastical steam-powered machines, dirigibles called airships, people who fly them called aeronauts, bustles, monocles, goggles and other coggy, clockwork goodness inspired by the writings of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and authors of that ilk. You’re all: dude, you’re blowing my mind. Let’s go get an Orange Julius.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor, $15.99)
While some version of Victorian England is often the setting for a steampunk adventure, it’s not a prerequisite. Boneshaker takes place in 19th century Seattle, in the midst of an alternative history where the Civil War still rages. The titular Boneshaker is an incredible drill engine which has destroyed Seattle proper, having released a poisonous gas that turns people into zombies. Zeke Wilkes enters the gas lands to clear his father’s name and it’s up to his resourceful mother Briar to track him down. Briar is definitely the clockwork heart of this fabulous, fantastical yarn which ticks toward conclusion at a rollicking pace.

Girl Genius Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank by Phil and Kaja Foglio (Studio Foglio, $22.95)
The tagline says it all: a gaslamp fantasy with adventure, romance and mad science! I’m just gaga for mad science and Girl Genius doesn’t disappoint. It follows plucky heroine Agatha Clay, er, Heterodyne, a student at Transylvania Polynostic University, who, despite her dedication to the world of ingenious invention, can never actually get her inventions to work. All of that changes however, through a series of extraordinary events which reveal that Agatha may be a Spark, i.e., one with a special hereditary genius for mad science. This beautiful color edition graphic novel collects the first three issues of this ongoing comic turned web comic, which were originally published in black and white.

Soulless by Gail Carriger (Orbit, $7.99)
The first in what’s now the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless features heroine Alexia Tarabotti who finds herself quite without a soul. Hellfire and damnation! I hate it when that happens. But don’t worry about Alexia, she’s got the perfect blend of grit and determination couched in impeccable manners to lead you through this frothy romp through a 19th century London peopled with vampires, preternaturals and other things that go bump in the gaslamp-lit night. Did I mention the ferociously dashing Lord Conall Maccon, Scottish werewolf? Insert sexy growl here.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 by Alan Moore (Wildstorm, $14.99)
I want to be Alan Moore when I grow up. He’s given us Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and a ton of other brilliant graphic novels and comics which haven’t been made into sh*tty movies. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was also made into a movie and its sh*tt*ness is debatable, but fortunately I’m talking about the graphic novel which isn’t sh*tty in the least. Six of England’s most brilliant champions, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin, Dr. Henry Jekyll, Mr. Edward Hyde and Mina Murray (the former Mrs. Harker) are assembled by the mysterious Campion Bond to defeat a nefarious baddie bent on world domination. I love it when literary heroes team up like the Super Friends to kick some nefarious-criminal-mastermind-ass.

Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters (Quirk, $12.95)
The publishing kids these days are calling it a “mash-up” when you take a classic and add in some genre-bending element like fangers, werethings and zombie-doodles. I thought I was bored already, but then Android Karenina came along. I’ll be honest; I thought the original Anna Karenina was a total snooze-fest, so I’m all in favor of trying to spice it up by adding a few robots and airships. Plus there are pictures! Uh, maybe you would call them illustrations or plates. In fact there’s like a table of them. Faaaaaanncy! But seriously, though, this latest mash-up is jolly good steampunk fun, even while it explores class struggle and cultural politics through the lens of a robot servant class. It’s an improvement on the original for sure. Yeah, I said it. Strike me down, Tolstoy.

October 2010, Erica David

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