Saturday, January 02, 2010

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: Boneshaker

A couple of weeks ago, I got an advertising e-mail (you know what those are) from Amazon, touting the 10 Best Science Fiction works of 2009. Since I like Sci-fi, I had a look, though not with the intent of buying. Three of the books sounded interesting, and the Greenville County library had two of them. One was Boneshaker, which I read yesterday as part of my New Year's vacation. It's an example of what is called steampunk; that is, science fiction set in an alternate-history 19th century, where the technology is big, bulky, and run by steam. Time magazine had a recent short article on the subgenre in reviewing Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. A decent discussion can be found at Wikipedia. Interestingly, neither the Time article nor the Wikipedia article mention the classic steampunk movie, which is Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985). It isn't set in the 19th century, but everything else about it has the steampunk feel.

Back to Boneshaker, which is set in late 19th-century Seattle. An inventor, Leviticus Blue, is seeking to invent a drilling machine to sell to the Russians to enable them to drill through glaciers in Alaska in their search for gold. In testing out his machine, it runs amok through the underground of Seattle opening up a vein of poison gas. People who breathe the gas turn into zombies (think Night of the Living Dead). Mr. Blue disappears, and his pregnant wife and most of the population manage to escape the gas. Apparently the leak can't be plugged. The gas is significantly heavier than air, so the center of Seattle is simply walled up (a 200-ft high wall), and whoever remained inside was left to fend for themselves.

Move forward sixteen years. Mr. Blue's son, unbeknown to his mother, decides to enter the walled portion of the city to find evidence to repair his father's reputation. His mother discovers his intent and goes in after him. Life inside the city brings to mind the Kurt Russell classic Escape from New York. The action moves along at a decent clip, and there's a certain amount of humor (for example, it is 1880 and the War Between the States is still going on, since Britain had entered the war on the side of the South). Mother succeeds in rescuing son. I won't tell you about Mr. Blue's reputation.

Moderately entertaining, and all the right atmosphere for the subgenre, but my ultimate question in regard to a novel is this: Does it make me want to go out and immediately read another book by the same author. In this case the answer is, "No."

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