Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy /
1870. A time known as The Great Killing.The vampire clans arose and slaughtered humanity with unprecedented carnage in the northern parts of the world. Millions perished; millions were turned into herd animals. The great industrialized civilizations of the world were left in ruin. A remnant fled south to the safety of the ever-present heat which was intolerable to vampires. There, blending with the local peoples, they rebuilt their societies founded on human ingenuity, steam and iron.The year is now 2020. The Equatorian Empire, descendant of the British Empire, stretches from Alexandria to Cape Town. Princess Adele, quick witted, combat trained, and heir to the throne, is set to wed the scion of the American Republic, a man she has never met. Their marriage will cement an alliance between the nations and set the stage for war against the vampires in an attempt to retake the north. Prepared to do her duty, she finds herself caught in a web of political intrigue and physical danger. The Greyfriar, a legendary vampire hunter from the north, appears ready to rescue the Princess and return her home—but he harbors secrets of his own. As the power struggle between the vampires and humans increase, Adele and the Greyfriar are caught in the middle, on the run, being hunted and fighting for not just their own lives, but for the future of humanity.
The Greyfriar is a surprisingly good book. I listened to this book mainly because I like James Marsters as a narrator and wasn’t sure what to expect from the story. The authors came up with an interesting way of treating vampires that thankfully does not involve making them out to be some sex symbols as seems to be the norm these days. The story makes use of several familiar tropes but they are combined to good effect and in such a way that the story was quite good. The authors’ prose and choices of wording give the book an aged tone that fits the setting of the story.
The premise of the story is that vampires attacked in great numbers just before humans had the industrial revolution and much of the human populace has been wiped out. There are some surviving empires/governments that have lasted the 100 or so years since the attack and mankind is ready to go to war to reclaim what they’ve lost. The story is not urban fantasy but more like…vampire steampunk as best I can describe it. The humans aren’t so advanced in technology that they completely outclass the vampires and the vampires aren’t so powerful that humans can’t have some successes in fighting back.
Vampires in the Vampire Empire series are not exactly your normal vampire – and that’s a good thing. Much of what you and I would think are traits of vampires turn out to be silly human superstitions cultivated over a century of fighting and/or staying isolated from them. They don’t die in the sun, they have retractable claws and fangs, can change their body mass so they can fly, can heal rapidly, etc. These traits leave the authors plenty of room for aerial fights on air ships and all kinds of fun scenes.
While I liked how the groundwork for the world was set up, the characters themselves were probably the weakest part for me. Everyone except for a few of the main characters were fairly one dimensional and caricatures of the proper English nobility, the American cowboy, etc. The main characters make up for this in how they grow through the course of the book but man. The majority of humans harbor some strange prejudices on vampires that’s kind of hard to believe (the biggest for me was that they seem to think they’re not much more intelligent than animals). This was a stretch just because they’re clearly in contact with people who know better and have plenty of evidence to the contrary. These were minor complaints and I’m still looking forward to starting the next book.
On the audio side of things, James Marsters does not disappoint. I have enjoyed his performances in the Dresden series and you will hear many similar voices to what he uses there. His characters are easily distinguishable and his narration is clear.
Posted by Tom Schreck
Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a terrific podcast app for iPhone and iPad.
Talked about on today’s show:
Fredösphere’s (Fred Heimbaugh’s) choice, the Ann Arbour Science Fiction And Fantasy Literary Discussion Group (founded by Eric S. Rabkin), the audiobook, the confusing and scatter first half of the book, the audio version, Daniel Wayman is one of the best narrator’s Fred’s ever heard, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (read by Paul Giamati), some books are better as audiobooks and some are better as textual books, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, Tony C. Smith, StarShipSofa, the glossary takes 30 minutes, Angelmaker is 18 hours, you have to pay close attention, do you listen to podcasts?, our SPONSOR: Downcast, the new iOS, Apple’s Podcasts App sucks, Downcast allows you to ultra-customize your podcast feeds, Levelator, volume booster for podcasts are too quiet, Protecting Project Pulp, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and Common Sense, noisy environments, the Downcast app is $3, updating feeds on the go, a podcast queue, if it isn’t in the iTunes store …, your custom HuffDuffer feed works great with Downcast, the SFSignal Three Hoarsemen Podcast, Tamahome uses Downcast, back to our regular programing, Jesse has no opinion about Angelmaker, this is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere by somebody else, the Neverwhere BBC TV adaptation, Nick Harkaway’s writing voice and actual voice are similar to Neil Gaiman’s, a completely undisciplined novel, a meandering through-line, the prose was “too plummy”, an editor with a strong whip-hand, Harkaway is enamored with great ideas, Goodreads has angry and bitter four and five star reviews for Angelmaker, unfinished novels don’t often get reviewed, books take a lot of time, why is it present third person every day tense?, breezy and informal sixteen-hour shaggy dog story, really really good writing, Ted Chiang, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good, Tam is surprised, history and science, Neil Gaiman’s wild son?, talking about interesting things in interesting ways with interested characters, sexually aggressive women, a pulp fiction novel, Fred lays out the plot, Joe Spork, Matthew “Tommy-Gun” Spork, the grandfather, clockwork bees, a doomsday device, a female James Bond, the evil Asian mastermind, absurdly competent, Remo Williams, the Opium Khan aka Shem Shem Tsien, a brilliant French scientist (a Hakote), the “Apprehension Engine”, fundamentally transform human consciousness, waves, “step one: steal underpants”, instantly intuit the truth of reality, Nick Harkaway is interested in interesting things, the throwaway ideas, Project Habakkuk, a WWII project in a WWII setting, an aircraft carrier built out of ice, the u-boat service, cool and interesting, the frozen submarine and the frozen air-craft carrier, if Jesse wrote fiction…, a submarine and an elephant in the same sentence, this book has dream-logic, Harkaway wanted the submarine encased in ice and didn’t care if it was implausible (a rumour), torture, sex, a Saint-Crispin’s speech, an adventure book, humour?, funny?, a romp?, silly?, allusions, The Gone-Away World, Tigerman, steam-punk, clock-punk, the etymology of the word “punk”, coming from the street, about the visual, about the body, Neuromancer, looking and acting like a punk, steampunk is about dressing up, form and colour over function, Hayao Miyazaki, an obsession with body parts, an obsession with torture, “fingers getting cut-off”, one of the Goodreads reviews, the toe obsession, Polly’s sexy and knowledgeable toe, this book is a thousand Chekhov’s guns, the toothless dog, the Snowy of this novel, Tin Tin, Tam should read Tin Tin, Angelmaker would be a really good HBO show, the names, Spork, Friend, Cradle, realism is not being strived for, a word cloud for Angelmaker, what words are being used, over description, the main character looks at himself in a mirror, not a mirror but polished brass, very clever Nick Harkaway, René Descartes, a steam-punk pulp adventure spy thriller, Robert E. Howard’s muscular description of colour, Howard wrote short, a serious issue, very interesting and difficult reading, the tense, Nick Harkaway is Neal Stephenson by way of P.G. Wodehouse, people drowning in a world of epic fantasy, Grimm’s Fairy Tales characters are puppets, over-description, Joshua Joseph Spork embraces his gansterhood, Luke Burrage’s complaint about American Gods, the character arc, false or indulgent, decapitating the evil mastermind, the Thompson sub-machine gun, aggressively turning off a large portion of one’s brain, Ada Lovelace, trains are cool, cheap complaints, an unplugged wild adventure book, Blood Music by Greg Bear (short story and novels), what is he trying to say here?, science fiction writers, Eon, The Wind From A Burning Woman is an amazing author collection, despite the caveats, the “grey goo problem” and the nature of consciousness, is it the case we are not seeing the world directly?, medium sized objects, trucks and trees, Jesse found it very frustrating, the movie people, a comic booky plot, animation?, John le Carré, paging Dr. Freud, no editors, do editors even exist any more, Marissa Vu works for the author, enjoy a ride and live in a world and drown in an environment, the reader makes an investment in the world building, Darkon (2006), LARPing (live action role playing), Cory Doctorow, Jim Butcher, regular people, Elidor and Aquilonia, more fun to play than to watch, Dungeons & Dragons, more word-play and less shield-taping, escaping from a horrible day job, Thomas Jefferson’s idea for state-names, Fred’s novel, “you’re not like most people you read books”, to each there own, make it shorter and better, a unit of Jesse (7 hours), Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott, the modern medieval romance, Game Of Thrones, why Fred fully forgives Angelmaker‘s failings, scenes that don’t just advance the plot, when Jesse wrote fiction it was terrible, being blind to your own faults, self-blindness, the four boxes, incompetent but self-aware, the inevitable decline, Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch, Stephen King, William Gibson, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, early success, an overflowing fountains of ideas, Tam and Jesse were obsessed, enormous fun, Jesse doesn’t read books for fun but rather for edification, Mike Resnick, instinctual writers, Dean Koontz, Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, writing the same novel over and over again, Neil Gaiman is a discovery writer, sprinkling plot points, Jesse shouldn’t try writing, Jesse’s curation #PUBLICDOMAIN fiction, The Wonderful Window by Lord Dunsany is basically a guy watching Game Of Thrones, like everybody else on Goodreads “this is the worst five star book I’ve ever read”, needs taming, layering done well, The Graveyard Book is a retelling of The Jungle Book, this novel should have spent a few days in the dungeon, rallying the underworld, Angelmaker would make a great Broadway musical.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War (The Chronicles of the Pneumatic #2)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 31 minutes
Themes: / snow / steampunk / zeppelin / airship / aliens /
The frozen wasteland of Snow World – known as Southern California before an alien invasion decimated civilization – is home to warring steampunk clans. Crankshafts, Imperials, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and many more all battle one another for precious supplies, against ravenous mutant beasts for basic survival, and with the mysterious Founders for their very freedom. Through this ruined world soars the Pneumatic Zeppelin, captained by the daring Romulus Buckle. In the wake of a nearly suicidal assault on the Founders’ prison city to rescue key military leaders, both the steam-powered airship and its crew are bruised and battered. Yet there’s little time for rest or repairs: Founders raids threaten to shatter the fragile alliance Buckle has risked everything to forge among the clans. Even as he musters what seems a futile defense in the face of inevitable war, Buckle learns that the most mysterious clan of all is holding his long-lost sister in a secret base – and that she holds the ultimate key to victory over the Founders. But rescuing her means abandoning his allies and praying they survive long enough for there to be an alliance to return to.
So if you are reading this, it means you’ve suffered through the first book, Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, and thought, “Well, here’s a series with no where to go but up.” Turns out you were right. After an unexpected opening on a snowy mountain with an obligatory action scene, Preston gets back to the business of the war brewing against the Founders Clan. And while it’s still not a great book, it is much more confident than the last and delves deeper into Buckle’s world.
Like the first book, the story relies a lot on excess for its appeal. Sure, the Crankshaft Clan is arranging an alliance with the other clans to go to war against the Founders who are trying to take everyone over. But now there is also a love triangle, a long-lost sister, and an alien having visions while in a coma. We are also shown some the ordinary goings on of clan life which is reminiscent of frontier life the West. It is unclear how society managed to revert back a couple centuries when they have little to no knowledge of twenty-first century life, but it is nice to feel like the events of the first novel have some sort of background. Once again, the characters were stereotypical and underdeveloped. The women all seem to be in love with Buckle for no real reason while he is completely oblivious. Preston still tells us about about the characters but this book also shows us a little to backup his claims. Still, he would have been better served by shortening the middle to keep the plot moving. The last chapter was again the most interesting part but it shows that Preston will continue to include whatever fantastical elements he can think of to keep his audience interested regardless of how muddled it makes his story.
Although better than the first novel, this book still doesn’t come up to scratch. Luke Daniels continues his admirable narration but it is not enough to make it worthwhile.
Posted by Rose D.
Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic #1)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 38 minutes
Themes: / post-apocalypse / snow / zeppelin / steampunk / airship /
In a postapocalyptic world of endless snow, eighteen-year-old Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California—before it was devastated in the alien war—Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World, and death is quick. Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of Noxious Mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers, and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress city.Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of ne’er-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war that could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.
Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders is a wonderful example of why books should never be judged by their covers. Because while the cover looks polished and interesting with a mysterious but kick ass hero, the story is actually pretty boring. It reminded me of the movie The Expendables. It throws in everything that typically makes an exciting steam punk adventure, but doesn’t use any of the elements to their advantages which just leaves a lot of forgettable explosions.
From the start I felt lost, like maybe I had actually started listening on the second disk because the story starts in the middle of things. Not in the middle of a fight or a heist or a battle. In the middle of the plot. Captain Buckle and crew are flying to the City of the Founders (formally Los Angeles) to break his father out of prison where he is being kept by the nefarious and secretive Founders clan. After all, why have boring Act I world establishment and character building, when you can just start at the beginning of Act II action and fill your readers in on things only as needed? As a result, I never really understood the day to day of this post-war future. In fact, the only things we are told is that civilization has devolved into family clans, all of whom specialize in a trade but none of whom really get along. At some point aliens invaded earth and mingled with humans long enough to leave half-alien children behind, but they are gone now. And humans may or may not be limited to Southern California. The elusive Founders Clan, who has been kidnapping people from other clans, seems important and everyone seems wary of them but I was never really clear on their role in society. It is defiantly not a world in which you can lose yourself.
But I can forgive mediocre world building for some great swashbuckling characters. After all, our hero is named Romulus Buckle and captains a zeppelin. But don’t have your heart set on Errol Flynn, because Buckle, like the rest of the cast are all straight from a mold. Buckle is dashing, brave and heroic because we are told he is, not because we are shown it. His half-alien stepsister is aloof because she’s an alien. There are goofy, well-meaning sidekicks, wise, old mentors, and mustache twirling villains, but none of this paper doll cast has the panache to hold my attention much less carry a story that is ninety percent action scenes. I’m not sure Preston would have bothered with the dialogue necessary to string the action together if it wasn’t the only way to publish a book. It was not until the last chapter that sets things in motion for the sequel that things became more interesting.
Overall, this is a pretty mediocre book that will a appeal more to teenage boys and diehard steam punk fans. Luke Daniels, the narrator, has a nice, manly voice that does the tone of the book justice but I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening when listening to lengthy action scenes. This is Preston’s debut novel and it feels like it, so be prepared for some clumsy storytelling.
Posted by Rose D.
Talked about on today’s show: We help Jesse clear off his desk by discussing books in paper (dead trees and rags), “like e-books but thicker”; Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan, second in the Lady Trent series, gorgeously illustrated, Darwin meets dragons; why are illustrations dying out, even in e-books?; Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan features good illustrations; The Raven’s Shadow, third in Elspeth Cooper’s Wild Hunt series; how many print pages in an hour of audio?; more from L.E. Modesitt Jr’s Imager series; John C. Wright’s The Judge of Ages, with allusions to Cordwainer Smith; The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, smarter steampunk?; a tangent on translating page to screen; Tam likes more fantasy in his fantasy; a tangent on Game of Thrones; a tangent on Citizen Brick and the expiration of the LEGO patent; The Revolutions by Felix Gilman; science fiction was once planetary romance; The Prestige; Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year vol. 8 edited by Jonathan Strahan, now published by Solaris, featuring a lot of great stories; and we finally reach audiobooks!; The Scottish Fairy Book, Volume 1; the timeless quality of folktales; Classics Lesson of the Day: Ovid’s a boy, Sappho’s a girl; Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear; we try to puzzle out what a stele is; we praise Bear’s interview on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy; Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered isn’t romance “because fifty-year-olds never have romance”; Without a Summer, third in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series, expertly narrated by the author; Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman doesn’t seem to be your run-of-the-mill urban fantasy (suburban fantasy?); Indexing by Seanan McGuire, urban fantasy with a postmodern twist; mimetic incursion and Jorge Luis Borges’s Averroes’s Search; Night Broken by Patricia Briggs, eighth in her Mercy Thompson series; a tangent on midriff tattoos and names for tattoos on other parts of the body; Jenny has created a new genre, Scientific Near Future Thrillers!; in the future, iPods will be merged into our eyebrows; science and technology don’t evolve quite how we expect; Neil Gaiman discusses the influence of Ballard and other classic SF writers on the Coode Street Podcast; Sleep Donation by Karen Russell; Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux; Boswell is Samuel Johnson’s biographer; Afterparty by Daryl Gregory is blowing up on Goodreads; pre- and post-apocalyptic fiction–no actual apocalypse this time; The End is Nigh, first in the Apocalypse Triptych edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey; the tech gremlins didn’t want us to discuss Dust, the third in Hugh Howey’s Silo series; Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor; The Forever Watch by David Ramirez, Jesse thinks the protagonist has too many jobs; “pause resister”, WTF?; Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, already reviewed here at SFFaudio; we struggle to define Pentecostal; religious opposition to the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass; Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s The Edge of Tomorrow (originally entitled All You Need Is Kill), Groundhog Day meets Fullmetal Jacket, film adaptation features Tom Cruise; Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer, a hardboiled detective story on Mars; Noggin by John Corey Whaley; Decoded by Mai Jia; Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones is a refresh of The Arabian Nights; Frank Herbert’s Direct Descent is about a library planet; novella is the best length for SF; Night Ride and Other Journeys by Charles Beaumont, a “writer’s writer” who wrote for The Twilight Zone; Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice is an irreverent Shakespeare/Poe mashup.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Wizard of OZ: A Steampunk Adventure (Steampunk OZ #1)
By S.D. Stuart; Narrated by Amanda C. Miller
Publisher: Ramblin’ Prose Publishing
Publication Date: November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 17 minutes
Themes: / steampunk / prison / betrayal /
There is no yellow brick road here. No emerald city. No lollipop guild. This is the Australis Penal Colony, a continent sized prison referred to the world over as the Outcast Zone.
Built to contain the world’s most dangerous criminals, OZ ended up the dumping ground for everything polite society deemed undesirable.
From inside this place, a garbled message proves Dorothy’s father is still alive, trapped in a prison with only one way in and no way out. Into this place, 17-year-old Dorothy must go if she wants to find her father and keep the promise she made to her dying mother.
She thought she had spent the past seven years preparing to overcome anything that got in the way of fulfilling her promise, but the situation she finds herself is harder and more intense than anything she has experienced before as she drops right into the middle of a power struggle for control over all of OZ. If she has any hope of surviving long enough to find her father, she will need her mother’s guts, her father’s brains and the unexpected help from those discarded and forgotten.
Everyone she meets tells her the same thing. The only person who can help her is the one prisoner who deserves to be in a place like this and refers to himself by the name, Wizard.
The Wizard always asks for something in exchange for his help. Can Dorothy afford the terrible price he will demand?
The Wizard of OZ: A Steampunk Adventure is a well-rounded story that is interesting the whole way through. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a steampunk take on The Wizard of Oz but Stuart manages to make clever nods toward different aspects of the classic when turning OZ into a massive steampunk prison. The steampunk aspects of the story are incorporated well and not over the top.
A lot of steampunk seems to go so over the top that it’s hard to follow what’s going on but that isn’t the case here. This is clearly a steampunk adventure that is not trying to be some kind of big budget movie. There are guns, swords, airships, combat, automatons, and borderline magical science all at work in this story. There is also a healthy amount of dueling, betraying, and double crossing in here too. One minor thing that I didn’t like as much (and is fairly common to steampunk) is the amount of betrayal- it was a little difficult to follow some characters’ motivations and betrayals at times because of all the double crossing going on.
Turning OZ into a prison worked out great. Since I know the story of OZ already, I kept linking pieces from this story to the classic and found that it actually works out well, even the lessons learned by the characters in the end. The story was interesting without dragging too much. The only parts that dragged for me were when some of the characters kept getting locked up in prison (it’s like a prison of prisons at times) and they sit around and talk or figure stuff out.
Amanda C. Miller does a great job as narrator for this novel. She does all the different voices and adds some good snark and attitude to Dorothy when she needs it. I never had trouble understanding her and could usually tell which character was speaking based on the voices she gave them.
Posted by Tom Schreck