The Engineer: Konstrukt starts fast, laying out the central conflict on page one of the book. An immense, ancient entity of the Lovecraftian variety i...moreThe Engineer: Konstrukt starts fast, laying out the central conflict on page one of the book. An immense, ancient entity of the Lovecraftian variety is devouring the universe. One thing can stop it: the Konstrukt, an equally ancient device of mysterious origins. The only catch is that the Konstrukt is broken, its many cogs and wheels scattered throughout the fabric of space and time. The Engineer is one man tasked with finding these pieces and reassembling the Konstruct, enabling life as we know it to go on. With that out of the way, the rest of the book is monsters, action and weirdness.
It’s a great concept, but Brian Churilla and Jeremy Shepherd fail to deliver an interesting story. Space travel and monster bashing are fun, but standard fare in the world of comics. There is nothing new or particularly fun in the Engineer’s character. The majority of the dialog in the book consists of the Engineer talking to himself while he fights monsters. Even he seems to get bored of his own running commentary and starts to repeat lines line “That wasn’t so bad!” and “How do like that?” Another problem is that the book has transition issues. While reading, I stopped multiple times and flipped back a few pages, thinking I had skipped a page or that I had missed a key panel, but that wasn’t the case. The story just makes awkward jumps from one scene to another. There’s also a running joke about chickens that falls flat. It seems to be an attempt at Eric Powell (The Goon) style humor, but it comes off as forced and a bit distracting.
The weakness of the writing is especially noticeable against the brilliance of the art in The Engineer. Churilla’s line work is great, clearly influenced by Mike Mignola, but not a slavish copy. There is a fluid quality to his drawing. His style has a smoothness that captures all the necessary detail, but omits anything that would clutter up the scene. There are no throwaway panels here – each one looks as if it could be blown up and made in to a poster. Shepherd’s colors add depth and emotion to the line work. The ethereal blue glow of the Konstruct parts is especially arresting.
Churilla and Shephard are clearly talented individuals, but ultimately The Engineer: Konstrukt is a book that makes for better viewing than reading.
Dreadnaught is the third installment in Cherie Priest’s popular Clockwork Century series. The series is textbook steam punk, set in a world where the...moreDreadnaught is the third installment in Cherie Priest’s popular Clockwork Century series. The series is textbook steam punk, set in a world where the civil war raged on for another 20 years, where oil was discovered decades ahead of schedule and where zombifying poison gasses occasionally seep out of the ground in the Pacific Northwest.
Nurse Mercy Lynch is busy tending war wounded in a Virginia hospital when she learns of both her husband’s death and her estranged father’s dying wish to see her one last time. Mercy sets forth on a cross country trip by boat, dirigible, and trains, most notably the Union war-engine, the Dreadnaught. Cherie Priest gives the reader many fearsome descriptions of the titular engine. For all the legend surrounding it, the Dreadnaught seems to provide Mercy and her fellow passengers little protection. In fact, it seems to make them more of a target for raiders, spies and the Southern army.
While I realize that Dreadnaught is a work of fiction, fantasy fiction at that, I was bothered by the key historical revision of this world: the South voluntarily freed their slaves and offered them land, just the same as white settlers. This revision doesn’t sit quite right with me. It treads the line of diminishing the cultural and historical impact of the real event and glosses over the cruelties perpetrated on an enslaved people. It’s damn convenient for Priest, who dodges the hurdle of creating sympathetic, pro-slavery Southern characters. In the world of Dreadnaught, no one seems to know what the Civil War is about anymore, they just fight and steer clear of unpleasant political ideals.
Historical quibbles aside, Priest’s previous books have been real page turners, filled with well-drawn characters, engaging locations and actual conflict. Dreadnaught is missing many of the ingredients that made the previous books in the series a success, leaving it a story with a lot of machines and gunsmoke, but not much impact. (less)
Entertaining bon-bon of a fantasy story. Greg van Eekhout takes the Ragnarok prophecy and drags it in to modern day Los Angeles. He does a great job f...moreEntertaining bon-bon of a fantasy story. Greg van Eekhout takes the Ragnarok prophecy and drags it in to modern day Los Angeles. He does a great job fleshing out Norse gods - even if you're not familiar with the mythology you'll come away with a little understanding of each deity in the story. If you enjoyed American Gods, you'll dig this book.(less)
Quirk Books has dubbed themselves “Masters of the Public Domain,” and it’s no idle boast. They’ve struck gold with the idea of mashing up classic lite...more Quirk Books has dubbed themselves “Masters of the Public Domain,” and it’s no idle boast. They’ve struck gold with the idea of mashing up classic literature with classic science fiction and fantasy tropes. Of their current titles, Android Karenina makes for the most successful pairing. As in the original, the book follows the relationships of two couples: the tragic Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky, and the more hopeful Nikolai Levin and Princess Kitty Shcherbatskaya. Frankly, that’s as far as I made it in the original Anna Karenina. Since I had committed no great crimes, I saw no need to punish myself by reading the entire book.
I did more than finish Android Karenina; I enjoyed it. It stands well on its own as an epic steam punk novel, following two couples and their android attendants through the Russian revolution. Ben Winters seems to have kept Tolstoy’s beautiful, complex characters much as they were in the original novel. This was a wise move because, as I understand it, the richly drawn characters were the best loved part of Anna Karenina. In this new volume, the reader can meet those same characters in a world with space travelling, alien fighting, android dependent high society.
Each of the Quirk Classics books comes with a “Reader’s Discussion Guide” at the back of the book, adding to the tongue-in-cheek fun. At the end of Android Karenina the guide asks if characters should be “hopeful, despairing – or given the malleability of space-time – a little bit of everything?” I can’t answer that question, but I can say that given the malleability of public domain texts I’m hoping we can have more classic mash-ups like this one. (less)
Like everything Tim Powers writes, On Stranger Tides is great fun. It’s packed with swashbuckling, pirates, magic, the fountain of youth and a little...moreLike everything Tim Powers writes, On Stranger Tides is great fun. It’s packed with swashbuckling, pirates, magic, the fountain of youth and a little romance.
My only quibble with the book is the story arc. It’s strange and while I can’t say that it doesn’t work, I can’t really say that it does work. The book is broken in to four parts: prologue, book I, book II and epilogue. By the end of book I the plot and character conflicts introduced to that point are resolved. Book II begins using most of the same characters as the previous book, but introduces a new conflict that is somewhat related to the conflict of book I. In the course of one novel Powers takes us through two complete plot arcs. I’m a bit puzzled as to why both of these plot arcs needed to be in the same novel. It seems as if Powers might have tried to rework the events to seem more like a single story than two separate episodes.
Much as it puzzled me, the construction of the narrative probably won’t bother most readers. It’s a testament to how engaging Powers is as a storyteller. (less)