Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pulp of the Week - Leviathan

Pulp of the Week
by Scott Westerfeld

When I heard about Scott Westerfeld's Steampunk ( think science fiction alternate history) Great War story I had a feeling that Leviathan would be right up my alley. When I opened up the book at the school book fair and saw the amazing illustrations of Walkers and Zeppelins I bought the book. I had fears that it might step in some of the same paths as one of my upcoming stories (takes place in my alt history WW I), but this is not the case at all.

Now that I have read Leviathan I can happily yell from the mountaintops that this is a fantastic tale, a brilliant alternate history, but, alas, it is not a complete novel. Westerfeld has broken a giant novel into three parts and this is part one. The next part, Behemouth is already out, and the third part, Goliath, will be coming soon enough.

Leviathan takes place in an alternate history Europe at the cusp of the Great War. Germany has mobilized and the rest of the continent is scrambling to counter their offenses. Science has made significant advances in this world, and Germany and Austria have developed walking tanks. There are small mobile scouts and massive ones, like aircraft carriers for walkers.
Keith Thompson's Brilliant Metaphorical Map
The British have embraced evolutionary biology, spearheaded by Darwin, who's research discovered the life threads that we call DNA. Their technology is biological, great riding beasts and living Zeppelins that create their own hydrogen.

The story follows two young teenagers, the Austrian prince Alek, and the British girl Deryn. Alek is on the run to save his life and Deryn has always dreamed of flying in the air corp. Unfortunately, she is a girl and there are no girls allowed. Being a flat-chested young lady, she cuts her hair short and calls herself Dylan when she enlists.

Needless to say, events conspire to draw the two together and Deryn's ruse works - mostly due to the fact that the whole story takes place over a short time and in a time of crisis.

For some reason the Publishing Industry has decide that if your focal characters are teens, the book is in the YA genre. To me, this is a pulp SF adventure story, and a darn good one. Thank goodness for the strength of the YA market, because great books like this are getting published and it is up to our kids to tell us where to look because the adult SF shelves are sparse for this kind of pulp SF adventure.

Reader beware, this book is a great read, but fit is incomplete. Fortunately part 2 of the trilogy, Behemouth is already out, and Goliath will be out in September. All together they total about 260,000 words, which is about the length of an epic fantasy book. I don't begrudge Westerfeld using the trilogy format, especially as I am loath to read giant books - pulp is short and punchy.

Scott Westerfeld insisted the books be extensively illustrated in the style of novels from the early 1900s and as you can see, the art by Keith Thompson is gorgeous and is a reminder of what good art can do for the story telling. There are many places where paragraphs of description are left out, unneeded because we have just seen a picture.

I give Leviathan a 9 out of 10 and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.


Ron Fortier said...

I so have to get these books, Peter.

Pete Miller said...

This one was great, and Boneshaker, too. Read that!

Fish Belt O'Reilly said...

I was tempted by this book until I saw it in the YA section of the bookstore. You've convinced me to give it a look though, thanks!