Bad zombies! Shoo! Go away!

In my efforts to immerse myself (well, not immerse, really, more like sprinkle) in steampunk culture, and to find out if it's really as amazing as it appears to be, I've been trying a few different approaches. A little over a year ago, I selected a number of steampunk books to read, both classic and more recent titles. I also decided to attend a steampunk convention this past weekend, The Gaslight Gathering (San Diego's first dedicated steampunk convention, by the way).

First, the books.

Everyone says The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, is one of the quintessential steampunk novels, and many people count it among their favorites.

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

I, on the other hand, have yet to finish it. I've started it three times. I've quit reading it three times. Each time I do get a little further in the story, but I still quit. I wonder how many times I'll have to start it before I make it to the end. The thought fills me with dread. I think a big part of my problem with the book is that it starts out with a prostitute heroine. And not just any prostitute heroine, a prostitute heroine who became a prostitute because her father fell on hard times. Okay, I don't know if she's really the heroine, or if she's only the main point of view for the first part of the book (that I haven't been able to get past yet), but I have a huge problem with prostitute heroines of steampunk literature. One of these days I'm going to have to write a whole essay about that, but today is not that day. (And you're probably glad.)

I have, quite happily and due to a Resolution to Read More, finished a few other steampunk-themed books:

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest (my review of his book is
found here, along with a few incidental comments on why
I don't like prostitute heroines of steampunk literature)

Leviathan and Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld - I love these books!

The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann
(this is the UK limited edition, with an amazing cover)

The Affinity Bridge is the latest book I've finished, and the first in a series featuring Crown investigators Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes. Taking place in London in 1901, it includes many of the classic elements of steampunk - airships, retrofuturistic steam-powered vehicles, clockwork gadgets, and zombies (called "revenants" because the word "zombie" didn't come to mean mindless flesh-eating monster until around the 1920s); but no mention is made of goggles, which surprised me a little, nor of prostitute heroines, which was very refreshing. When I was first thinking of reading the book, I was put off by the zombies, but I am happy to report that the revenants in The Affinity Bridge are the least annoying zombies I've ever come across in film or literature (except maybe for the zombies in the 1943 film I Walked with a Zombie). Yes, they are horrible creatures who feast on human flesh (described in detail in one of the more graphic incidents in the novel), but their existence makes sense. You'll have to read the book to find out why.

The story in The Affinity Bridge is intriguing; there are a few mysteries that become intertwined, and there's plenty of action that kept me turning the pages. There are also moments of very good characterization, which I wasn't expecting because overall the writing style is rather workman-like. In the edition I read (the limited edition published by Snowbooks, pictured above), there was a considerable number of typos, some of them quite shocking, like the repetition of an entire phrase, and some odd usage choices by the author. As for the typos, I can only suggest that Snowbooks hire another proofreader. (I haven't read the US edition yet, but am curious to see if the same errors occur.)

The usage choices may be harder to correct, because some people may not consider them a problem. For instance, on p 306, the author has Sir Maurice say: "I knew we were dealing with a young man, a minor royal, but someone who would be sent to London on diplomatic duties all the same, probably due to the importance of their mother." Do you see what I'm talking about? The noun 'someone' is singular, and the pronoun 'their' is plural, although it has been used many times as a singular pronoun. I'm generally not opposed to the use of singular their/they. Writers like Jane Austen have used it. (And who am I to correct Jane Austen?) There are times when it comes in absolutely handy. For example, in the sentence "Someone has left their apple core in my shoe", it's very useful to say 'their' because we don't know if this now core-less individual is male or female. It's also useful when a speaker wishes to obscure someone's gender, for whatever reason, as in, "The author will remain unknown so that their essay can be judged on merit alone." But in the passage quoted from The Affinity Bridge, there's no reason to use singular 'their'. We know the someone in question is a young man, and a specific young man to boot, so what purpose is there in saying "their mother"? None. And there's nothing wrong and everything right with saying "due to the importance of his mother". In fact, it makes more sense that way, at least to me. But I feel I may be in a shrinking minority. (By which I mean a growing minority, because the minority is getting larger, meaning it includes fewer people. Or something.)

There was another instance of grammatical irregularity, a much more jarring one where 'that's' was used as an adjective instead of 'whose', but I can't find it now, so let that go. And then there was stuff like someone's complexion being described as "pallid and pale", which is like saying someone's laundry was "wet and damp" or someone's corpse was "dead and deceased".

Then there was this description of a gun after it had been fired: "Smoke curled in lazy curlicues from the end of the discharged barrel." "Curled in curlicues" is not as annoying as "pallid and pale", but it wants to be.

Typos and such aside, The Affinity Bridge is an entertaining book that has much to recommend it. If the writing was a little more well-crafted, stylistically speaking, I'd put it on my list of favorites. And I'm eager to read the sequel, The Osiris Ritual.

But maybe not until I take another crack at The Difference Engine.

PS More about the Gaslight Gathering anon.


Megan said...

Interesante! I think I might want to try The Affinity Bridge. I really like the Leviathan series and I'm excited for the third one. I think I told you we're reading Leviathan for my book group this month. I hope some people will read it, at least. I think there were a few that seemed intimidated by the length of the book, even though it's a young adult novel, and a very non-annoying one at that. Plus it has illustrations and largish print. At least the hardcover does. We'll see. I look forward to seeing your Gaslight post!

Oh, also, with zombies, I'm not a fan. But I did like that Walking Dead show. I thought it was well done. At some point other (living) characters come in, and I'm not a fan of a handful of those. However, when there's a small community, it seems annoying characters are prevalent and you cannot escape them. Kind of like crowds of zombies.

Shannon said...

I actually haven't read any of these steampunky books and therefore have no opinion on them (although Autumn is lending one to me that seems to fit this category after a fafshion, but I've only read ch 1), but I think your qualms (and explaining them) are humorous, bc I for sure feel the same way about them.

Janeite42 said...

What is the book she lent you?