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REVIEW: The Osiris Ritual

Author: George Mann

2009, Snowbooks

Filed Under: Sci-Fi, Mystery

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 4

I think I may have gone a little overboard in my adoration of The Affinity Bridge. I really liked that book because of the way it blended tone and atmosphere while simultaneously braiding a few plotlines into a compelling mystery. The Osiris Ritual pulls off the same feats just as well, without feeling formulaic–and yet didn’t wow me as much. Perhaps it’s because I read the two so close together, or perhaps it’s because I actually got around to reading some Sherlock Holmes in the time between volumes. In either case, The Osiris Ritual, despite being a solid adventure story and a clever enough mystery, left me fairly unexcited.
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REVIEW: The Affinity Bridge

[This steampunk homage to Sherlock Holmes is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: George Mann

2008, Snowbooks

Filed Under: Mystery, Historical, Sci-Fi

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 6

If you’d listened to our most recent podcast (you didn’t, because the recording got messed up, so you might never hear it at all), you would have heard me say this was a Sherlock Holmes-y book that was sort-of-but-not-really steampunk. I was half correct; full of airships and clockwork automatons and laudanum benders and Queen Victoria on an artificial lung crafted from bellows, it’s squarely steampunk. But to define it as that would be to sell it really short. Rather than relying on the setting, Mann writes a good story, leaving the setting to seep in around the edges.

Before we go any further, I have a confession to make. There’s a blight on my reader’s record, a mark of shame I really need to correct. I’ve never read any of the Sherlock Holmes books. From what I’ve picked up (thanks mostly to Gregory House), this book shares a lot in common with Doyle’s beloved mysteries.


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REVIEW: The Company of the Dead

[The taut time-traveling novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: David J. Kowalksi

2012, Titan

Filed Under: Sci-Fi, Historical, Thriller

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 9

Writing a time travel novel is a big endeavor. There’s a slew of things you can mess up, and even one loose end can unravel the entire plausibility of your plot.

Needless to say, when I read the premise of this book (alternate history, time travel, some guy trying to save the Titanic) and that it was a debut novel 15 years in the making by a practicing OB/GYN, I didn’t really expect much. Even a few hundred pages into this behemoth of a book, I still wasn’t really sure which way things would fall. Luckily, they fell toward the side of awesome. I found myself really enjoying this novel, churning through the last few hundred pages excitedly.

As you might expect from 750 pages of time-travel fiction, the plot gets pretty complicated. It’s hard to explain my thoughts on the book without a somewhat lengthy set-up, so bear with me.

Things start out fairly straightforward. A man named Wells has traveled back in time and finagled his way aboard the Titanic. He’s from our present and he’s attempting to “correct” history by preventing the ship’s sinking. While he does manage to affect history and avoid the iceberg that famously brought the boat down, the ship strikes a different iceberg while correcting course and sinks all the same. Thus, some of the people who died on the Titanic now no longer died, and history changes.
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REVIEW: Goliath

Author: Scott Westerfeld

2011, Simon Pulse

Filed Under: Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Historical.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 5

Goliath closes the YA trilogy Westerfeld opened barely two years ago with Leviathan (if you want to get caught up, you can read my review of Leviathan here, and my review of the middle book, Behemoth, here). Like its predecessors, Goliath is a fun adventure set in a creative alternate history, where World War One is a fierce battle between the steampunk Clankers (Germany and friends) and the Darwinists (headed by Britain) whose army consists of giant biological weapons created by genetically modifying lifeforms–the titular Leviathan being an armored airship supported by a flying whale.

Deryn, the girl posing as a midshipman in the British Air Navy, and Alek, the Hapsberg prince hoping to find a means of peace, continue their adventure right where things left off. There’s plenty of spectacle in this book, and even more historical figures make their way onto the pages (Nikola Tesla, William Randolph Hearst, Pancho Villa, and others).
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REVIEW: The Squirrel Machine

Author: Hans Rickheit

2009, Fantagraphics Books

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi, Horror.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 5
Visuals... 8

This book is pretty messed up. I’m not even really sure what it’s about, but it’s pretty messed up.

Edward and William are two very smart little rich kids living off their father’s inheritance. As a hobby, they make steampunky musical instruments out of animal carcasses and phonographs and sundry things. There’s a crazy woman known as Pig Lady, and they somehow have a cavernous workshop hidden beneath the house their father left them. There’s their odd mother, and a girl named Morgen who gets banged in what I can best describe as a snail sorter. And there’s this:
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REVIEW: The Map of Time

[This time-travel-focused genre buster is a C4 Great Read. Find it and other C4 favorites on our Great Reads shelf at Powell’s.]

Author: Félix. J. Palma

2011, Atria Books

Filed Under: Literary, Historical, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 9

There’s very little I can say about this book without spoiling something. So I’m going to try something a little different to start. Let’s do word association. Take a look at this list and see how many things you think could help make for a good story:

Victorian romance. Parasols. Hoodwinks. Murder. Historical figures in fictional situations. Meticulous plotting. Vengeance. Paradoxes. Bawdiness. Secret societies. Blackmail. The Terminator. Drunk British whores. Jack the Ripper slaughtering drunk British whores. Minority Report. Tribal magic. The time machine in H.G. Wells’s attic. Street brawls. Apocalyptic robot battles. Dimensional rifts. Time travel. Henry James and Bram Stoker having a sleepover. Time Cop. Lava guns. Immortal dogs. Naive girls easily coerced into sex. Parallel universes.  Steam powered automatons. Fourth dimensional dragon-like beasts. Sword fights.

Pretty good odds for an entertaining book right? Right. In any case, if that piqued your interest sufficiently, go ahead and skip the rest of the review, pick up this book, and enjoy.  Read on and I’ll try and explain a little more substantively, but be aware that while I’ll try to limit them, there will be spoilers after the break. If you already think you want to read the book, do so, then return to my review in the future (oooooh).

Last chance to avoid SPOILERS. Okay, you’ve been warned.
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REVIEW: Behemoth

Author: Scott Westerfeld

2010, Simon Pulse

Filed Under: Young Adult, Historical, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Illustrations... 8

My biggest gripe with Westerfeld’s Leviathan was that it was too much a set-up for a trilogy and not as satisfying a standalone story as the lead entry in a series ought to be. Seeing as Behemoth is the second entry of said planned trilogy, that problem is no longer as glaring. Still, this too acts as a build up for a larger conflict, but rather than leaving us at the precipice, it–as a good middle segment should–aligns the plot’s working pieces then sets things in motions for a hefty conflict in book three. All that aside, this novel features all the aspects that made the first book intriguing, as well as an arguably tighter story arc.

Behemoth picks up with Deryn, the girl posing as a male in order to be British midshipman, and Alek, the Hapsburg prince on the lam, aboard the great flying whale dirigible following the escape at the end of Leviathan. They head for Istanbul, where the majority of the story unfolds.

(I gave a breakdown of the basic conceits of the series in my review of Leviathan, so if you haven’t read it go check out that first–but in brief, this is a steampunk retelling of World War One, where the machinist “Clanker” Eastern Europeans are in conflict with the “Darwinist” Western Europeans’ army, which is built around giant creatures created by manipulating evolution into complex living vehicles and biological weapons. So by whale dirigible, I mean it’s literally a huge, floating, armored whale.) 
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REVIEW: Boneshaker

Author: Cherie Priest

2009, Tor

Filed Under Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

You’ve either seen this book on innumerable store displays or heard the name. Both for good reason.

Cherie Priest takes the trappings of steampunk back to America, distorting history to make the Civil War less of a done deal and the Gold Rush more of a calamity. It’s been years since Leviticus Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine carved a swath of land out from under Seattle, releasing a subterranean zombie plague in the form of the Blight. With a brick wall separating the undead city from the ravaged Outskirts, one cannot help but wonder what’s happening on the inside…
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REVIEW: The Light Ages

Author: Ian MacLeod

2004, Ace Trade

Filed Under Sci-Fi, Literary

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 10

Once I arrived at graduate school, I immediately discovered that people read “literate” and “popular” writing differently. Those two terms, and the spaces between them, go by a lot of names. “Character based” vs. “plot based” is a big one. I once heard a newcomer (of more seasons than myself) say he was there for the “serious fiction program.” I wondered which part of my education (or my writing) I wasn’t taking seriously.

Both sides have their merits and their pitfalls. I can’t say that every book I’ve read is Dostoevsky, but that doesn’t mean I hold it to any less rigorous a standard. Any book should entertain and inspire with equal measure. It pays to stay receptive to any work of fiction that is written well.

Take the steampunk genre. When it comes to mind, your imagination settles on something akin to a refined lady hiking up her skirt as she leaps between the cars of a moving train. Not what you’d typically find in a “narrative-heavy” read, where the emotional geography between characters counts for more than the shifting position of clockwork cities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When you pick up steampunk, you expect you’re about to experience the unlikely adventures of a time period that never was. But believe me, it goes both ways. I’ve seen steampunk narratives every bit as thick (and characters as deep) as anything you could find under the Penguin Classics label. And sometimes, even more so.
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REVIEW: Leviathan

leviathan-by-scott-westerfeldAuthor: Scott Westerfeld

2009, Simon Pulse

Filed under Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Historical

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 7
Artwork..... 8

I don’t really read all that much sci-fi, and even less so niche stuff like steampunk, but if I had to pick a go-to subgenre, steampunk would be my choice. I like the alternate history, low-tech tech, Victorian atmosphere, and funky gadgets. When I learned about Westerfeld’s alternate history of the First World War, battled between an axis of machinists (“Clankers”) and an alliance of nations who rely on biological machines of war (“Darwinists”), I was intrigued. I don’t usually give much credence to book trailers–they are usually rather dumb and tend to commodify books a little more than is to my taste–but the one for Leviathan tickled my fancy. (I’ve embedded it below if you care to watch.)
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