Four and a Half Torches (Out of Five)
Steampunk is the sub-genre of sci-fi set in a 19th century, Industrial Age, Jules Verne-type setting, and lately, the buzz around it is pretty much deafening.
One recent entry to the sub-genre is The Affinity Bridge by George Mann (Tor Books, $13.99).
It’s an enormously fun read.
How fun? The book has robots. And zombies. Doesn’t look like it from that cover, does it? It makes the book look old-fashioned, which it isn’t really.
If you’ve never read steampunk, the thing you need to know is that the setting isn’t supposed to be “real.” There was never a time in the 19th century when technology was anywhere near this advanced. It’s science fiction of the “future” … set in the past. The past’s vision of the future, if you will. Get it?
No matter. The story involves two investigators in Victorian London, Sir Maurice Newberry and his trusted, platonic associate Miss Veronica Hobbes. They’re investigating the mysterious crash of a zeppelin that was piloted by a robot. Did something go awry in the robot’s brain? The creator of these robots says that malfunction is impossible, but there are enough suspicious clues to make Newberry and Hobbes think there’s more to the story.
To make matters worse, a nasty virus, probably imported from India, is infecting the slums of London, turning poor people into brain-eating zombies.
George Mann might not win any awards for his prose itself — it’s very straightforward, sometimes even pedestrian. (The book isn’t written in a Victorian style.)
But the success of this book just goes to show that a “novel” isn’t just about words: it’s about storytelling. And in that respect — the most important respect of almost any novel — the author is enormously successful. The book is readable, the characters are appealing, and the plot is tight and very satisfying.
Pick this one up. And the even better news is that it seems to the first in a series, A Newberry & Hobbes Investigation.
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