The Crossroads of the Aether
On p.6 of this thread, in a comment to Prof. Wetware's critique of Cherie Priest's Dreadnaught dated 5/15/11, I said I would write up a thorough review of Boneshaker. Written from the viewpoint of someone who is close to being an expert on the Pacific Northwest.
I am a 5th generation Seattleite. My great-grandparents provided timber to help rebuild the city after the terrible fire of 1889. I was raised with a decided appreciation of the local culture and history-- which means knowing about the many characters who have lived in this wild, wide-open port city. Also recognition of how the geology is such a determining factor; a subduction zone that causes earthquakes and huge volcanoes. Plus familiarity with sea life, and the dominant tree species along what plants are edible or can be used as medicines.
I do Northwest Indian art woodcarving, which requires some understanding of the culture and history of First Peoples. Another fixture on Puget Sound is the state ferry fleet. Successors to the old steam-engined "mosquito fleet," so named because it was a ubiquitous swarm. I worked in the engine rooms of the ferries and am a volunteer crew member on the Virgina V, with its 1902 triple-expansion steam engine. It is the lone survivor of the mosquito fleet. I have a botany degree (minor in forest ecology) from the University of Washington.
So I was looking foward to reading Boneshaker, since it is set in Seattle. Supposedly, it deals with some of the local lore. And it had some good reviews. The first hint of trouble was the afterwords where she informs us simple minded backwater natives that she realizes the Smith Tower and King Street station were built later than her chronology has it. She informs us that that SteamPunk is, after all, about alt. history. Well, duh. We know that. What we object to is that the different timeline serves no other purpose than to tie into the next book. There is no compelling reason or internal plot consistancy which demands the changes.
Many of the plot elements don't hold together. Nor are they resolved well, if at all. Few of the characters are fleshed out convincingly. Okay for the rotters (zombies,) but not so much for people I'd like to care about. Many of the similies she invents are just plain clinkers. Eg: a chandelier with pieces hanging like "crystal puppets." Great words, no real meaning. Sure, there are the requisite SP goggles, zeppelin, plucky heroine, mad scientist, but so what? For a book that, in contrast, actually has a terrific plotline, intriguing characters, and ancient Egyptian esotericism-- plus it's very well-written, read The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. It's considered one of the foundations of the SteamPunk canon.
The writing in Boneshaker is bad enough, but the most appalling aspect for us native Seattleites is the author's apparent lack of any real knowledge about this area. And apparent disdain for readers such that doing even a little research isn't worth the effort. Goes to show that living here does not confer any real depth.
For example, the repeated references that characters make to "the ocean." Seattle is on Puget Sound. A 100 mile long fjord and estuary; at its deepest 900 feet, most of it about 300 feet deep. With some weird critters down there-- huge octopuses and rare 6-gill sharks. Anyway, the actual ocean is about 140 miles from Seattle. Do East Coast people say Chesapeake ocean or Long Island ocean?
Another piece of evidence. The "old oak" in the yard of the lavender house. Oaks aren't native to Seattle. (The Garry oaks of Sequim and Ft. Lewis are relicts.) An oak would have to be planted-- and would not do well in the summers. Plus even in the altered timeline, Seattle was a young city. Thus no time to produce an old oak. Why not use a Douglas fir? or better yet, a western red cedar? Cedars are also the main tree used by local Indian cultures for canoes, clothing, ceremorial carvings, longhouses, and basketry. Its scientific name is Thuja plicata-- thujone is the chemical also in wormwood. Any good SteamPunk should know that's the heart of absinthe.
The book has no acknowledgement of a unique NW culture nor that of the 1st Peoples. One character remarks that he's not sure what kind of Indian (the character) Angeline is. I know! So would any early resident. That's the name of Chief Seattle's daughter. He was Duwamish and Suquamish. One tribe, the Duwamish, along the river named for them that empties into Seattle's Elliot Bay, The other directly across Puget Sound; the little town of Suquamish where Chief Seattle is buried. BTW, they're still there and they have a great tribal museum. There are other related Salish-speaking tribes, but they are some distance away.
Nor is there a real feel for the influence of geography. Yes, Mt. Rainier is mentioned. But it's not that close-- 56 miles southeast of Seattle. Hills, rivers, and lots of huges trees are in the way. Plus glacial till from the last ice age. One character in the book says that someone said it was a volcano. The implication is that this was not known then. It was. The old surveys like Lewis and Clark or the earlier voyages of exploration mention the volcanoes of this area. From information given by Indians, a geologist determined in1890 that Glacier Peak, which is hidden in the Cascade range, is also a volcano. It's not a separate cone like Rainier, Baker, St. Helens, Adams or Hood, (BTW-- the outflow and vapor of Rainier and St. Helens do not go in the direction of Seattle.)
An interesting fact, not difficult to find out, would have made a better plot device than asserting totally unlikely subterranean gasses from Mt. Rainier. After the 1980 eruption of St. Helens, lakes formed that had odd coloration due to the bacteria them. Several researchers studying these and other subjects like renewed plant growth or the on-going vocanic activity came down with a new type of flu which, its seems, emerged from something in the lakes.
No mention in the book either, of the complex and checkered labor history of an emerging port city. Some quite radical-- like the loggers who supported the Wobblies (IWW) Or the strikes by coal miners near Lake Washington. Some regrettable-- like the anti-Chiese riots. Which were like contemporary events; whites feared that corporations would hire low paid immigrants to drive down wages. Yes, there are Chinese characters in the book. But for what reason?
I've got more, but you get the point. If the real stuff, which gives our environment its colors: red and green, if you know what I mean...is so easy to ignore, then why use the city at all?
Yes, I do. But I'm finishing a short story and have a deadline to meet. Therefore I won't be able to go back to dealing a thorough critique of Boneshaker. Right now, I only have the header up for that piece.
I will cover even more detail the offenses to our local culture and history, plus an analysis of writing style, grammar, whatever. At the end of this week or so.
I owe Cherie Priest, though. If I hadn't been so appalled by the book, I never would have tried writing fiction myself. I read that and thought: I can do better! I know I'm a good writer when it comes to subjects like economic democracy, theology, esotericism, or a labor perspective. But I did not believe I had the creativity or training in character development that it takes to do good fiction.
Just finished "Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel" by Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris. I haven't read a book as fast and voraciously since the last Harry Potter book. Fast paced, likable characters, decent plot.
So far it's at the top of my very short list. Going to try to read Boneshaker next, but after two chapters I can tell it will be a chore.
I have to finish Leviathan, too.
I picked up Phoenix Rising because of the copy on the back and completely loved it. I just hopre they have more adventures planned (they better). Check out heir website. Fun Place. Jude Law as Wellington Books and Kate Beckensale as Eliza Braun?
Finally got around to reading this as well. Excellent, perfectly steampunk. Action, adventure, mystery, spirited women and perfectly dapper and mannered gentlemen, gruesome, secretive and brutal enemies. Their website is great. Can't wait for the next novel. Jude Law and Kate are too old. Need someone in their mid to late 20s. Much as I like Jude and Kate, they're getting a bit too long in the tooth. Plus, Miss Braun is a redhead.
True but I have a preference for Kate. I find myself, at times, casting books as I read them. Really annoying habit at times. I don't remember which book (a while back) but for some reason I thought of Sean Connery as one of the characters and from that point on I tended to read that character's dialogue as Connery. And I, too am really hoping for a 2d book in the series.
I do that same thing. Makes reading a book easier sometimes. I would go for someone like Leighton Meester. She's mid 20s, looks good as a redhead. The guy is harder, because not only does he has to be good-looking, but he has to be great looking in a hat, and not every good actor can pull it off.
im reading one called dead iron, its steampunk /western, forgot the authors name.
I just finished that on recently. I really hope the author, Devon Monk, has a few more planned. Something I liked about the book, besides the genre and the story, was the way the "narrator" told the story in basically the same way the characters talked. Like someone sitting around a campfire, on in a bar and relating a story that he'd heard about. A subtle and effective device that hit me about half way through the book.