Book Review – Automatic Woman by Nathan Yocum

Automatic Woman by Nathan Yocum

Automatic Woman by Nathan Yocum

The blurb steams:

The London of 1888, the London of steam engines, Victorian intrigue, and horseless carriages is not a safe place nor simple place…but it’s his place. Jolly is a thief catcher, a door-crashing thug for the prestigious Bow Street Firm, assigned to track down a life sized automatic ballerina. But when theft turns to murder and murder turns to conspiracy, can Jolly keep his head above water? Can a thief catcher catch a killer?

I think I like the idea of steampunk more than I like actually reading it, because although I keep reading these books I can’t actually remember one that I really enjoyed.

I think one of the secrets of reading steampunk must be above average suspension of disbelief, because I think what I have problems with is the combination of history and things that did not and could not happen.  It’s like historical fiction taken past its breaking point.

For example, the premise of the automatic ballerina seems to be “AI with cogs”.  Considering that we can’t do AI now, even with so many orders of magnitude more computing power… my disbelief cannot suspend.

As well as the fantasy aspect being hard to swallow, the historical aspects were also problematic.  Although things like the difference engine and punch cards had technically been invented by 1888, the book treats them as modern computers and data and I just don’t think that would be right in the context.

Another thing that steampunk books including this one like to do is improbable brushes with famous people.  I don’t think these are really necessary and I found them distractingly unlikely rather than thrilling.

My biggest problem with the book is its abrupt and anticlimactic ending – the main character was just a spectator for most of the end of the book.  It felt like one of the psych-out almost-endings that longer books have, so maybe if the book had been longer that’s what this ending would have been.

Something that I didn’t notice until a while after I finished the book was that the premise is never explained.  Other questions that are raised later in the book are explained, but the original mystery is not.

Having complained about the book for a whole blog post I feel bad – I did enjoy about the first half of the book.  I liked that the main character was flawed and that he didn’t have the typical advantages of protagonists.

Book Review – The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett

The blurb mystiques:

The year is 1919.

The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built the guns that won the Great War before it even began. They built the airships that tie the world together. And, above all, they built Evesden-a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer.

But something is rotten at the heart of the city. Deep underground, a trolley car pulls into a station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the victims were seen boarding at the previous station. Eleven men butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. All are dead. And all are union.

Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this. There is a dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton and with a war brewing between the executives and the workers, the truth must be discovered before the whole city burns. Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, Hayes must uncover the mystery before it kills him.

I’m a fan noir and SF and I especially like the combination of the two.  The blurb doesn’t mention SF but some reviews I’d read did so I was expecting it.

I don’t think this is really a classical noir book – it doesn’t hold too tightly to the formula, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Books that follow formulas are predictable, and I think that leads to stagnation of the genre.

Instead of just being a mix of noir and SF, the book was more of a journey – it started off noir but ended SF (via alternate history).  The blurb only really mentions the noir part, so only describes the first part of the book.

The love triangle was interesting because (again) it didn’t straightforwardly follow a formula.

Some of the mysteries were a bit obvious and some of them had too many clues dropped, but several major ones were good reveals.

The ending wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.  Given the author’s eschewing of formulas I didn’t really expect everything to be wrapped up in a nice bow at the end of the book, but it wasn’t a really satisfying open ending either.