Friday, August 13, 2010

Pulp of the Week - Cherie Priest's Boneshaker

Cherie Priest

One of the most talked about SF novels of last year, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker is a terrific adventure novel and could be the blueprint for a fantastic movie. The characters are great, the setting is unique and cinematic, and the action is fast, dangerous, and inspiringly original.

This is my first time reading a 'Steampunk" novel and I guess that just means alternate history, late 1800s SF. I have read quite a bit of "Cyberpunk" and a little "Splatterpunk" and I guess that people just like labels. Especially ones with the word 'punk' in them.

Based on the appearance of Steampunk fans at the San Diego, Comic Con, wood and brass gadgetry are an important visual piece of the puzzle of Steampunk, and Priest gets all that stuff into the book, but (for example) her goggles are so absolutely vital to the setting that I couldn't imagine the characters not wearing them.

Oh, yeah, and the airships. They're here too, and I love them, and again, they work beautifully.

The story is about a mother and son and the tragic events that lead to them being outcasts in an alternate history zombified Seattle near the turn of the century (from 19th to 20th.) Seattle, it seems, underwent a horrible tragedy that released a continuous font of toxic gas called The Blight upon the land. The Blight caused the zombies. They are a relentless horde that swarms and eats humans. Because the gas is still emanating from the ground a 200 foot tall wall was built around the city, and the city was left for dead.

The mother, Briar Wilkes, knows far more about the Blight than she has told her son. The boy, Zeke, was born just after the gas was released and has never know his father - the man everyone holds responsible for unleashing the Blight gas.

Events take a turn that finds Zeke trapped in the walled city and Briar is off to the rescue. But in a world of zombies and air pirates and people living underground beneath a city of slavering zombies, who will rescue her?

I really like the setting and the characters and the way Cherie Priest works the emotional story of both Briar and her son and everyone else they meet. Hopefully I will learn from this book and make sure that I create a satisfying emotional arc to parallel the story in my own fiction.

I give Boneshaker a 9 out of 10. The evocative Tor paperback cover is by Jon Foster.

I snatched Jon Foster's preliminary sketches from the BSC site.


R.M. Smith said...

Will be adding that to my "must-read" list now. Thanks.

Pete Miller said...

You're welcome, Rick. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes pulp or adventure stories. Don't let the "Steampunk" label turn you off to this great adventure book. There is nothing stuffy about it at all.

Ritterton said...

Just finished this book - a great quick read that is a lot of fun for those of us who have lived and worked in Seattle with a familiarity of it's history. It has a fast pace to it and I have to say I was a little disappointed in the ending in that it seemd to suddenly rush to a conclusion.

B. Portly Esq. said...

Not a huge fan of the recent Steampunk, stuff (far too superficial, and low on ideas) but I can recommend Jeter's Infernal Devices and Morlock Night - they are awesome. Queen Victoria's Bomb and Moorcock's Oswald Bastable trilogy are good reads too. Top that off with Difference Engine and you've got a good survey of the important novels.

- littlewars