Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let the Steampunk Zombies Roll

By Stefan Slater
Literati Contributor
Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest has written a total of three books (Dreadnought, Clementine, and Boneshaker) that take place in the “Clockwork Century.” While each book contains characters and references in the other books, they can still be read independently from one another without missing the overall plot or context of the story. The protagonists of these books are all women; they are strong, independent, and above all, willing to blow away a zombie head or two.
Vinita “Mercy” Lynch is working as a nurse in a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when she learns that her husband has died in a POW camp. Then she receives a telegram from her estranged father, who is dying  in the frontier town of Seattle, and wants desperately to reconnect with her. With little else keeping her in Virginia, she embarks on the long and arduous journey to the distant Western Territories.
Priest conjures an alternate history in which the Civil War has lasted for nearly twenty long years, and slavery is no more. There are airships, steam-powered robots, and fortress-like trains capable of leveling entire forests. Oh, and there are zombies: hordes upon hordes of flesh craving, gore-covered, rotting zombies.
Mercy’s journey through the war torn Border States is fraught with danger, and she barely makes it to the Mississippi River. In St. Louis, her trip takes a turn for the worse as she boards the only train headed out west: the monstrous Union steam engine known as the Dreadnought. It supposedly carries deceased Union soldiers to their final resting places, but Mercy learns that the Dreadnought also carries a mysterious cargo, which draws considerable Confederate attention, ranging from rebel bushwhackers to diabolical mechanized walkers.
Something far worse than outlaws awaits Mercy out west, and it could spell the end for not only those aboard the Dreadnought, but also the entire United States as well.
Priest does an excellent job of balancing Mercy’s mental and physical journey. The grief of losing her husband, as well as the painful possibility of reconnecting with (and then possibly losing) her long lost father.
Dreadnought carries a sort of Steampunk vibe, and because of that, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that there are robots or flying machines, as they are all defined by technologies that existed at that time. Discussing the zombies will give away some of the plot, but her reasoning for their existence is not unbelievable, and she easily places a horror element into a sub genre that very rarely has any.
The only flaw one may find with Dreadnought is that Priest creates such a fantastic world, but only examines a small portion of it. The book reads rather quickly, and will most likely leave the reader wanting to know more.
Dreadnought is an excellent read set in a unique world that is unlike most anything in Science Fiction today.  Reading this novel will most definitely spur you to pick up another one of Cherie Priest’s books, just so you can revisit “The Clockwork Century.”
Authors after Dark has nominated Dreadnought for steampunk novel of the year.

Check out video below of  Cherie Priest's interview with Science Fiction Book Club at the Dragon Convention in Seattle last month. She talks  mostly Boneshaker but at about 3 minutes the talk turns to Dreadnought...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Straight, No Chaser

It never fails. No matter what I've planned to read for this blog and how carefully I've penciled it in my to-do list, the minute I walk into a bookstore all bets are off. Anything could happen, and usually does. LeCarre's latest languishes on my nightstand because  I found a spectacular anthology that I just had to read right away, and lucky for you, I'm going to tell you all about it.
Blood, Guts, and Whiskey  (Kensington books, trade paperback, $14.00), is a collection of hard-boiled stories from the editor of ThugLit.com, Todd Robinson. Robinson curated these  24  tales of moral turpitude by 24 kick-ass writers, and, ladies and gentlemen, this is .44-caliber prose.
It's all here:  Cynical anti-hero/heroines of dubious repute, murky pasts, dames up to no good, and use sex as a weapon, and enough violence so that the blood spatter brightens up the dark mood. The characters and scenes fairly jump off the page, immersing you so quickly the beer and desperation hit you like a wave of humid air.
 Jordan Harper's Red Hair and Black Leather, the opener, sets the tone and starts this trip to the dark side where you'll meet a mobster with a bloody side job, a writer who discovers the darkness within, a couple of mobsters who run into trouble when someone flips the script on them, a shopkeeper at the end of his rope, and a mother who gives up her soul to make amends.  That's just the tip of the iceberg. This is a stellar collection that won't disappoint.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa Reacts to Nobel Win

The yearly speculation surrounding the Nobel for Literature is always frenzied and reaches a fever pitch as writers, editors and columnists from around the globe postulate and speculate, but the frenzy rarely, if ever, mentions the winner, and this year was no exception. The Peruvian novelist, who is admired and respected around the world, didn't make anyone's short list, although in South America he's afforded the same respect as Garcia-Marquez.
Below check out the video of the writer's press conference at Instituto Cervantes in New York yesterday reacting to the win. He gives statements in both Spanish and English.

Vargas Llosa's work is not only artistically beautiful to read (in the original Spanish), but spans a wide breadth of forms (journalism, plays, poetry novels, criticism) that demonstrates a powerful talent. One of his most powerful books, The Feast of the Goat is a harrowing account of the last days of the Dominican Republic's fomer dictator General Rafael Trujillo.  In Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter he uses humor to weave the story of  the beginning of his journalism career at age 15 and the start of his affair with his first wife, Julia Urquidi who was more than ten years older and related to his uncle by marriage.

Picador, a division of MacMillan publishers announced that they will immediately reprint 10 of the writer's titles in paperback to meet the expected demand after the announcement.
Vargas Llosa lives in Madrid, Spain and Lima, Peru. He is in New York for this year teaching creative writing and literature and Princeton University.

Check out this slide show of Vargas Llosa photos and the audio (in Spanish) of the first people to congratulate him, a radio station in Peru.