Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Reviews And Some Christmas Stuff

I think I should start here by naming the elephant in the room: I’m very, very bad at thinking up titles for anything. No, really. The original working title for Stormlock was The Wizard Story—when I was forced to give the testing facility a name, it sounded good enough to become the title. There you go. A little bit of sad trivia for you.
Anyway, let’s move on (quickly) to a couple of book reviews here. If anyone out there is thinking about making an English/Victorian steampunk YA novel about mobile, somewhat corrupt cities, don’t bother. It has been done at least twice, most likely many more times while I wasn’t paying attention. Fortunately, both of the books I’m covering here were done by some good authors, so this won’t be a disgruntled rant like last time. The two that I’d like to bring up here are Worldshaker by Richard Harland and Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, published 2009 and 2001 respectively.
If you need a good steampunk novel for the younger/middle end of the young adult spectrum (valuable Christmas ideas here), I would heartily recommend these two books for your consideration. Both are worth a look: while they both cover moving cities with struggles between the upper and lower classes, they have their own distinctions between them. I’d start with Worldshaker as it is a little bit of a lighter read, but I’m not talking about length. It is a good introduction to the area of Victorian values and class problems, it has action and intrigue, and it necessitates the reading of its only sequel, Liberator. However, it does feel a little simple at times. The interpersonal relationship situation can be complicated, that is certain, but everything else feels somewhat straightforward, I hesitate to say predictable. And Liberator does drop the ball a tad at the end—its climax takes up the final third of the book, a slow burn rather than a firework, but the end did give me the feeling of fulfillment I value in many of my favorite books. In the end I applaud, applaud, applaud Harland for his realistic and detailed tensions between the Worldshaker’s elite and the slave classes. People of today’s upper and lower societal classes would benefit reading these books.
I also really enjoyed reading Reeve’s Mortal Engines this past month. Burned through the first book in no time. The worldbuilding is like Worldshaker on steroids, broadening the scope beyond the city-ships themselves. The characters are way more complex—on both sides, for both the “good” and “evil” people that are encountered. There was a tangible threat of menace from inside and outside, and the post-apocalyptic elements were creatively handled (I appreciate that). Worldshaker is more historical fiction, but Mortal Engines is a well-done futuristic dystopia. The major criticism I have was the way the book ended. The last chapter felt like a punch in the gut—nay, a thirteen-round losing streak against a waist-high boxing champ. While the spark of hope is kept alive, I would only read the next book in the hopes that it would provide a pick-me-up, that those last page won’t be my final memory of this series. And it looks like Reeve’s Predator Cities goes on for at least three more books, so my fingers aren’t crossed. But, as hard as the ending was, it was artfully done. I respect that too. So yes, I recommend this one as well, but you should probably buy the whole quartology in the hope that the main characters’ winds of fortune improve.
Using my own Dystopian Teen Novel Review Checklist, Worldshaker and Mortal Engines both get about 10, which I consider to be a low enough score. Unless you count the “Stalkers” in Mortal Engines as an incarnation of zombies, in which case its number skyrockets (I feel there aren’t really enough of them to merit this addition, though, so I ignore it).

Huh. All that took longer than I was thinking. I was planning on using some time to talk about the season; Christmastime seems to be one of those seasons especially set aside for writers. The weather keeps you indoors with all kinds of comfortable clothes, blankets, and furniture, and the early twilight enhances a sensation of mystery and expectation. But, again, I’m running out of space as you run out of patience. As long as I’m on a roll here, though, I’m going to make another recommendation: somehow, someway, if you do not have it already, get the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas album. It will make great ambient music as you stare into snowy darkness, trying to think of the next perfect sentence.
            Unless you’re just killing time playing video games. Then I recommend Portal 2’s Workshop map “The Winter Testing Initiative”. You can’t go wrong with maddeningly difficult, Christmas-themed Portal test chambers.

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