Sunday, April 1, 2012

Staff Pick: The Clockwork Century series, by Cherie Priest.

When Cherie Priest (M) discovered the sub-genre ‘steampunk’, she launched herself into an experimental novelette exploring this new world history. Titled Tanglefoot, she’s made this story freely available online.

(And purely by coincidence, this is the title to be discussed at the next meeting of the Jules Verne Phantastical Society’s book club. If you don’t already know, the next meeting is Sunday, April 1st, from 3:00 - 4:30 pm, at Alderney Gate Library.)

Steampunk typically hinges on the technology and vehicles; re-envisioned Victoriana meets the next century of invention. So in Boneshaker (M), the tale is about a coal-powered tunneling machine. Dreadnought (M) is the story of the Union army’s fastest train. Clementine (M) features airship chases and battles; Ganymede (M) is about a lost submersible.

These stories are set during a fictionalized and extended American Civil War, where the British continue to fund the Confederates. Dreadnought finds a Confederate widow immersed in the defence of a Union train and crew; Clementine is the collaboration between a retired Southern spy and an escaped-slave-turned-pirate. With a big gun.

While there are scientific and technological advances, there is lingering ignorance and innocence across the nation. The West is mostly undiscovered and unsettled territory, with ports cropping up more and more. But many causes continue to block the advancement of ‘America’. What is known is dwarfed by what is not known. Secret super-weapons. Political plots. Drug runners. Invading Mexicans. Invading zombies?

All life is a journey; this is made painfully clear as most of these plots involve the protagonists trying to get somewhere fast. Chasing pirates in an airship. Racing against Confederate skirmishes. Dodging cannibals, escaping madmen, or just trying to get home to Pa.

Women are not inferior. If anything, Priest’s books feature women who have or eventually develop strong convictions, no nonsense attitudes. A nurse with six shooters. A spy with sass and notoriety. A distraught mother. And in Tanglefoot, a psychiatric patient.

Interested? After Tanglefoot: read the grim horror Boneshaker, then the mystery Dreadnought, then the action-adventure Clementine. Round it all off with Ganymede (which is next on MY reading list…)

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