Review ~ The Doctor and the Kid

Cover: The Doctor and the Kid

The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick

Welcome to a West like you’ve never seen before! With the O. K. Corral and the battle with the thing that used to be Johnny Ringo behind him, the consumptive Doc Holliday makes his way to Deadwood, Colorado. But when a gambling loss drains his bankroll, Doc aims for quick cash as a bounty hunter. The biggest reward? Young, 20-year-old desperado known as Billy the Kid. With a steampunk twist on these classic characters, nothing can be as simple as it seems. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I was walking through the library and was waylaid by a “If you like West World, try…” shelf. Now, I like westerns. I don’t read many of them, but it’s a genre I like. I *want* to like the sub-genre of  weird west and I *want* to like steampunk, but I’ve often been burned by those. I’ve also somewhat sworn off books that have too many fictional versions of real people. So, why-oh-why did I check out this book?

The cover. Yep. I figured the Doctor was Doc Holliday and I didn’t know I wanted Doc “the Lunger” Holliday tricked out with steampunk gear. I read a few pages before I checked it out and it didn’t offend.

What Worked
The plot was okay, though it felt a little drawn out. Honestly, the weird west and steampunk elements worked pretty well. Better than any of the other books of these genres I’ve read. I think this was probably because it was a western first and didn’t go *too* overboard with the trappings. Yeah, there’s the problem of outfitting a town with technology without infrastructure, but…

What Didn’t Work
…no, actually that bugged me, but that wasn’t the biggest problem here.

Man, the dialog.

There’s a rule in writing that info-dumps are a no-no. I would argue that it depends on the size of the info-dump (usually). If it’s too big and dry, in the middle of fast-paced plot, that’s probably a problem. If it’s not that big of an info-dump… You know, characters *do* have to explain things to each other sometimes. And that’s okay. In the case of The Doctor and the Kid, info-dumps are handled through strings of dialog.

There are a lot of instances of Character A saying something and Character B asking “What’s that?” Character A gives a small explanation, but then Character B asks a variation of “What’s that?” Which leads Character A to give the second part of the answer. But Character A‘s explanation would have only been three or four sentences in the first place. This probably isn’t a problem once, but it’s every time, every character, on multiple subjects. It got tedious. Which I would guess is what Resnick was trying to avoid.

Overall
You know, I read the whole book. It frustrated me at times, but it was a quick, sometimes fun read. It pointed out something to me that I want to avoid in my writing, And it had a steampunk Doc Holliday and a great cover.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Pyr, 2011
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: weird west, steampunk

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

 

Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“A Dead Djinn in Cairo” by P. Djeli Clark

Card picked: 5
Found at: Tor.com

The Story
A bit of a longer story for my first of the year, but one I was especially looking forward to when I put my list together. Why? Djinn. They are underused in my opinion and I’m always interested in what different authors do with them.

Clark puts one in the center of a mystery…as the corpse.

Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, stood gazing through a pair of spectral goggles at the body slumped atop the mammoth divan.

A djinn.

In this history, the border between our world and a world of the supernatural has been breached. There are ghuls, “angels,” and, of course, the djinn who have brought their brand of steampunk-ish technology to the era. This is still Victorian/Edwardian Egypt, though. While the djinn have helped remove the English from Egypt, Fatma, a woman, is still unique in her position as an inspector. On the surface, the death of the djinn seems to be a strange suicide. With unknown runes left inscribed around the body and an “angel’s tongue” found at the scene, Fatma suspects more but her theories are dismissed.

The investigation takes a world-endangering turn, which felt a little abrupt. The world that Clark created for this story is a lot of fun and it was surprising that Fatma and the Ministry don’t currently live on in other works.

The Author
P. Djeli Clark is an Afro-Caribbean-American writer of speculative fiction. He can be found online at The Musings of a Disgruntled Haradrim and on Twitter.

Review ~ A Study in Silks

This book was provided to me by Del Rey via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

Cover via Goodreads

Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder… (via Goodreads)

There is a lot going on in this book. Steampunk London. Forbidden magic. Sherlock Holmes’s sister’s daughter whose father was part of a traveling circus. To her credit, Emma Jane Hollaway eventually does a good job juggling all that.

While the novel is 500+ pages, and the beginning of a trilogy, most of these elements are introduced in the first chapter in the background while Evelina Cooper, our magic-using tinkering heroine, sneaks around her friend’s house. It’s a lot. Add to that a scrambled timeline at the beginning as we catchup with other events that are going on at the same time as the murder of a house maid. I’m not sure it’s the most elegant way of organizing plot. Thankfully, the rest of the book isn’t as loopy. After about the 45% mark, the action picks up and the story starts moving.

I’m not much of a fan of YA, which this is. Much time is spent on Evelina’s presentation into society and a love triangle between her, her “aristo” friend’s brother, and a guy she grew up with in the circus. All of the above are concerned about their places in the world. It’s all very emotional and tortured, and is an aspect that felt was over-wrought. I would have been happier if the story was more firmly about the murder, the forgeries, and the blackmail. You know, the good stuff.

Most of those plot elements, while secret from our protagonists, are unraveled rather quickly to the reader. We’re given enough points of view to see pretty much all of the story. Most of the suspense in the book is about *how* Evelina will figure things out more than *if.* While the first of a trilogy, A Study in Silks ends in a fairly satisfying manner. The main mystery is solved, other threads are left loose.

I’m always very dubious in YA stories of young people that are very competent at many, many things. At age 19, I knew pretty much nothing about every thing. Even if she is Sherlock Holmes’ niece, Evelina is an accomplished acrobat, well-read, and able to machine tiny animal automata. If she were in her 30s, I could buy it. That would be a steampunk story I would read. Apparently, her magical talent is substantial as well, a hook into the next book.

Uncle Sherlock does put in an appearance, but he’s a pretty bland Holmes. Evelina worries often that Holmes will accidentally ruin her friend’s family due to connections with a crime. That is a flaw that is out of character for the Holmes of Doyle canon.

The world-building was decent, for as many irons as there are in the fire. Occasionally, though, I felt like Hollaway was trying to be a little too clever with the cogged-out inventions. A paper shredder made of multiple flourishing Edward-Scissorhand-style shears isn’t practical. At all. Ever. There is a reason most objects are designed the way they are regardless of how they are powered.

I’m not enough of a fan of YA or of urban fantasy steampunk to read the rest of this series. I found A Study in Silks to be a fairly serviceable book, which I did enjoy in parts, but it didn’t sell me on the next 700 pages.

Genre: Mystery, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Was willing to give it a try.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes, though it took a while to get going.
Format: Kindle eBook
Procurement: NetGalley

rip8peril1st

Carniepunk

This book was provided to me by Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Carniepunk, featuring Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, and Kevin Hearne

Cover via Goodreads

The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?

And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.

Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic. (via Goodreads)

As a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was intrigued by an anthology that endeavors to collect carnival stories with an “urban” fantasy bent. Carniepunk contains fourteen stories. Half are stand-alone stories and half are set within the worlds of recent, popular urban fantasy series.

The best of the anthology are from the former category. We start with Rob Thurman’s “Painted Love,” which provides a creepy nod to Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. Hillary Jacques’s “Recession of the Divine” is also a standout, mashing up Greek myth and carnivals with a dash of murder mystery. The best, though, is saved for last. The anthology closes with the exquisite “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. The story isn’t very “urban” but it is beautiful and bittersweet.

The other half of the stories, the ones set in preexisting urban fantasy worlds, would probably be better appreciated by someone wider read in that genre than me. While most do an okay job of bringing a new reader up to speed, the occasional exposition gets a little tiring. It also felt like many of these stories relied on the set up, “Favorite character from your favorite series goes to the carnival! Hijinx ensue.” Again, this is probably a lot of fun for readers that follow those series. For someone that doesn’t, the stories don’t seem to take enough advantage of the carnival setting.

One exception is “The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah Dawson. It is a “Blud Short Story,” but Dawson doesn’t bother explaining what that means, at least not at first and not at length. The main character and the reader are both thrown into the story, float or swim. Her steampunk world and theatrical characters seem utterly made for a mystical carnival.

The best stories of this anthology are very good. Even if you’re not a heavy reader of urban fantasy, this anthology is worth a look.

Carniepunk is set to be released July 23, 2013 by Gallery Books. (Reviewed early due to travel next week.)

Genre: Urban fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Carnivals? Urban fantasy? Sounds good to me.
Format: Kindle eBook, Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley

Book #24

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant

It took me a little while to warm up to this anthology. To me, steampunk is a very specific thing: science fiction of the Victorian era. That is, what kinds of technologies could you extrapolate based on steam power? The stories in this anthology stretch the definition of steampunk in a lot of different directions, not many of them sticking to the steaminess of steampunk.

For example, Libba Bray’s “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls”  revolves around one very high tech gadget being used in a traditional Old West setting. “The Summer People” by Kelly Link is contemporarily set and fae centric. These fae have a tenancy to create clockworks. Once I stopped saying “Well, *that’s* not steampunk,” I enjoyed myself a whole lot more.

My two favorite stories are both homages to other, er, sub-genres.  Ysabeau Wilce’s “Hand in Glove” reads very much like a slightly skewed sequel to Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” With a little Frankenstein thrown in for good measure. I would love to spend at least a novel-worth of time with Detective Wilkins in dreary Califa. “Steam Girl” by Dylan Horrocks is a love letter to cinema cliffhangers with the brilliant and beautiful Steam Girl as our perpetrator of derring-do. Or maybe Steam Girl is just the alter ego of a young girl trying to make the best of her ugly situation… Either way, Dylan Horrocks (better known as a comic writer and artist) presents a great debut story.

Format: Kindle Cloud Reader
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

Book #23

Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

Vampires! Werewolves! Steampunk London! Wait a minute, didn’t I just review this book?

Kiss of Steel was actually my first foray into steampunk novels. I started it before Soulless and before the short story anthology that I haven’t reviewed yet, but didn’t finish it until last week.  Part of this was due to the time constraints on the other books–library books that needed to be returned–and part of the delay was because this book didn’t quite pull me along as well as it might have.

Portions of this novel really shined. There are a few scenes between Horonia and Blade that were charming and funny, but they felt like set pieces that were being linked together by the rest of the plot. I also rather liked Bec McMaster’s vampire lore: infected humans are changed into powerful blue bloods that slowly devolve into bestial vampires. The infection part seems to be the main reason that this book is set in a “steampunk” London. The infection is virus and Horonia seeks to find a cure, or vaccine, based on her deceased father’s research. I believe that the same sort of plot could be achieved within Victorian/Edwardian era science. The other steampunk elements are very few. There are some automatons and that’s pretty much it. This seems to be more  Victorian set paranormal romance than true steampunk.

I will admit to not being much of a romance reader. The sex scenes in Kiss of Steel seemed somewhat ill-placed. Again, I had the feeling of these having been written first and the rest of the plot being constructed around them. After a (spoiler free) very serious thing happens, Horonia goes to presumably talk to Blade about the dire thing and they end up having fairly happy  sex before she even mentions it. That just doesn’t seem right.

This isn’t a bad book, but it’s far from being great. I see that it’s “Steampunk London #1” and I kind of wish that wasn’t the case. I think McMaster has some promise, but I wonder how much a writer can improve while writing the same characters in the same world.

Format: Mass-Market Paperback
Procurement: Goodreads Give-Away; ARC courtesy Sourcebooks, Inc.
Bookmark: July 18th Valley Metro bus pass

Book #22

Soulless by Gail Carriger

As I said on Monday, in the past when I considered reading this book, I was dubious. Vampires and werewolves in steampunk London with a parasol wielding heroine? There are so many ways this can go horribly wrong. But for the most part, it doesn’t.

I”m going to compare this book to most Joss Whedon projects. There is a gap between how plausibly good the average Joss Whedon project should be and how much fun it really is. (This analogy does rely on one believing that Joss Whedon has a few good project to his name. If you don’t care for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, or even Firefly, you’re probably not going to be inclined to read this book anyway.) Even The Avengers shouldn’t be as much fun as it is, but it comes down to characters. Give me characters I like and I’ll forgive quite a few sins.

I also might be a little softer on this book because I’m (relatively) new to steampunk and not overly jaded when it comes to bodice-ripping romance novels. I’ve somewhat accepted the fact that no writer is going to handle steampunk world building as well as I’d like. It is, basically, science fiction set in the 19th century. Going back and rebuilding the world with new technologies (and supernatural aspects) and the ramifications of those things is a task. I’m certainly not saying that I could do it well. I maintain that the best policy as an author in regards world building is to either be exhaustive* or shut up. Gail Carriger present her world, but doesn’t over-explain. I’m okay with that…

…because I’m too busy enjoying myself. The situations have a level of absurd comedy that I enjoyed. The characters were maybe a little too stereotyped, but there is a lot going on in the book. If your world is already quirky, it might be okay to lighten up on the character eccentricities. The plot did a decent job of presenting one story as well as setting up the series.  The language sparkled. Occasionally, there was too much attention paid to clothing, but that fits more with (my preconceptions about) the Victorian setting. I didn’t feel the epilogue was particularly needed, but I can see where the romance novel fans might want that sort of thing.

I suppose the true test might be, am I going to read the other books in this series? There are four more. I’m not sure. I’m certainly not going to do it now. While a few hours of fun and a nice break, I’m not up for more fluff just yet.

*If you go the exhaustive route, you don’t need to share every last detail with your reader, but you do need to know all the details.

Format: Kindle Cloud Reader
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library