Wow, what a ride! Steampunk, time travel, alternate history all mashed up into one rousing adventure story. This 5th book in the six-book series featuWow, what a ride! Steampunk, time travel, alternate history all mashed up into one rousing adventure story. This 5th book in the six-book series featuring the historical figures of explorer/author/translator Sir Richard Francis Burton and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne is probably my favorite so far. It continues the overall story arc of the whole series in fine style while also delivering a nice and extremely important episode that stands well on its own.
An experiment by the brilliant Charles Babbage in 1860 has enormous consequences including the spontaneous arrival of Spring-Heeled Jack in Leicester Square, London who is intent upon the sole mission of hunting down and killing Burton himself. As for Burton he begins to experience strange hallucinations of parallel realities and comes to realize that these are alternate timelines. Burton and his companions, including the likes of HG Wells, embark upon a journey through time, stopping at various places in the future, all the way to the year 2202.
And this is what makes this particular volume of the series so fascinating for me. I’ve read most of the classics when it comes to future dystopias (1984, Brave New World, and HG Well’s own The Time Machine, etc) and seldom have I encountered a more coherent take on what might come to be. Mark Hodder has given us more than a fascinating adventure novel with this book but has also provided a unique but I think plausible take on it all. Of course his future is based on an already alternate past, projected into its future but there are keen insights that completely relate to our world and where we might be headed. Simply fascinating to read. And in the end, it’s a darn fine adventure story at the same time.
One more novel to go, "The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats", just published…and I can’t wait to see how this is all wrapped up. ...more
When I know I’m good and ready for a challenging read I know I can always turn to Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinburne adventure series. One really neWhen I know I’m good and ready for a challenging read I know I can always turn to Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinburne adventure series. One really needs to put everything else aside and prepare for full throttle complexity, and after reading this 4th book in the series, I’m thinking they’re growing even more convoluted than ever.
Ever since I read the first book in the series, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, I’ve been impressed with the author’s creativity. To be able to explore this world of Victorian age England in an alternate history version (where Victoria is assassinated early in her reign) is always fun. Good steampunk novels, time-travel novels, or old fashioned character-driven historical novels can be difficult to write but to combine all of the above is a tough feat to pull off. But Hodder does it once again.
Sir Richard Francis Burton is the primary character, of course and we see the story unfold through his eyes. I found the other characters well drawn once again and great fun to follow along with as they encounter various historical figures and places in 19th century England. Some are well known to us, like Charles Darwin, Bram Stoker, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), while others are far less known, at least to me, but nevertheless important historical contributors.
My one complaint about this book is that I am probably just not smart enough to read it. I get the same feeling when I read a Neal Stephenson book. Time travel plots can certainly be convoluted with resulting paradoxes prompting bouts of head scratching puzzlement on the part of the reader, but when said paradoxes drive the plot and the action, the result can be absolutely confounding. It was difficult to keep track of who was doing what to whom and when they were doing it. Add to that a rather large cast of characters and we have a recipe for a complicated stew. Paradoxes that result in branches to parallel universes and timelines abound throughout and I was not always confident that I was understanding which set of characters or which version of the timeline I was observing. For that reason I took off a star on my rating even though the fault is likely mine for just not being smart enough.
Nevertheless, the attempt was worth it just to read Mr. Hodder’s prose and absorb his wit if nothing else. I am anxious to see what comes in the next novel for it is evident that this universe has been blown wide open with this novel and there is no cap to what can happen next (or previously). ...more
This particular novel seems to be largely regarded as the weakest of the series. I didn't know that as I read it but I tend to agree with that sentimeThis particular novel seems to be largely regarded as the weakest of the series. I didn't know that as I read it but I tend to agree with that sentiment, at least up to this point. I still love the characters and the world building; what could be cooler than introducing intelligent dragons to the Napoleonic wars? But I found the plot of this one to be largely dull. Looking back I see a couple of important developments in the overall story arc but while reading I found myself hoping that...something would happen.
Most of the book is a long, miserable journey across the continent of Australia. The small group of dragons and their pilots constantly search for food and as that becomes scarcer, it turns into a tale of survival. There are some interesting (but whiny) new dragon characters introduced who will no doubt be very important in future books. And the writing remains top notch (as in nouns, verbs, conjunctions, etc). And even though this can be deemed "alternate history" the actual history of early Australia is accurate.
So I'm happy to have read this one but do look forward to a return to form with the next volume....more
The concluding book in the "Burton and Swinburne" trilogy (although I understand a fourth book is on the horizon) is a complex and highly entertainingThe concluding book in the "Burton and Swinburne" trilogy (although I understand a fourth book is on the horizon) is a complex and highly entertaining smorgasbord. It's part detective novel featuring an alternate history version of the famous African explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton in the role of the primary action/sleuth. Alongside him is the trusty sidekick: poet, drunkard, and worshiper of the Marquis de Sade, Algernon Swinburne. Together and along with many other famous and not-so-famous personalities from the mid 1800s, they try to complete their chase of the time-traveling mischief maker, known as Spring-Heeled Jack and prevent the untimely assassination of Queen Victoria. So let's see, we have alternative history, Steampunk, time travel, detective mystery, and lots of action/adventure. A multi-course meal that will leave you belching with pleasure.
Wow, what a ride! All three novels have been an incredible tale in a Steampunk world with cool contraptions and even cooler personalities. The plot is rich with action and intrigue but it's those characters that really make this series come alive. And this time Burton, himself, gets to experience time travel by somehow ending up in 1914 as part of the Africa campaign in World War 1. It's not the same WWI as we know, of course, but is fascinating all the same. And as to how he got there...well that's just one of the several key mysteries that we get to dig into. And at the same "time", Burton and his team are making their way to the darkest corners of Africa (The Mountains of the Moon) in 1863 in search of the remaining eye of the Naga so as to manipulate events and avoid the coming war. OK, I give up on describing this one...just rest assured there is a lot here and it's all worth it.
A truly engaging series. I'm so happy that more are on the way....more
I actually enjoyed this one more than The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, the first in this alternate history - steampunk - gaslight trilogy. II actually enjoyed this one more than The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, the first in this alternate history - steampunk - gaslight trilogy. I love the way the author takes real historical characters such as Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne (as well as a host of others such as Charles Babbage, Herbert Spencer, and even a young Oscar Wilde) and weaves them into a fascinating steampunk plot taking place in London, 1862. I love me some good Sherlockian atmosphere when combined with such interesting complex characters who are engaged in an intricate mind-bending plot. Throw in some great action, witty humor, as well as flying "rotorchairs" and a robot...er, "clockwork man", etc. etc. and you have all the elements for a great read.
Can't wait for the third of this trilogy and really hope Mr Hodder decides to expand his trilogy by a few more books....more
This series keeps on rolling along and just refuses to get stale. For me, I can't help but be drawn to a series that is part fantasy and part historicThis series keeps on rolling along and just refuses to get stale. For me, I can't help but be drawn to a series that is part fantasy and part historical fiction. Intelligent dragons, Napoleonic wars, engaging characters, cool settings, thought provoking personal dilemmas, and extremely well written...what more can I ask for? I enjoyed this one more than any since the first in the series, His Majesty's Dragon...more
This is, hands down, the best overall collection of short stories I have ever come across. And that's quite an admission for me because up until now IThis is, hands down, the best overall collection of short stories I have ever come across. And that's quite an admission for me because up until now I have only been a so-so fan of Sherlock Holmes. I've read all of Conan Doyle stories years ago but never became a super fan. But after this marvelous collection by some extremely well know authors (and favorites of mine) like Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, Naomi Novik,Stephen King,Tanith Lee, Laurie R. King, and Stephen Baxter, I'm feeling all fanboy now. FYI, these are not the traditional Sherlockian-type stories but rather tend to deal with aspects outside traditional Victorian England...like alternate histories, time travel, Steampunk, and the supernatural. Very cool.
Short stories, in general have never been great favorites of mine, as I prefer to really get into my characters but since this is all about Sherlock, Watson, et al, it's more like reading separate chapters of a longer book. Altogether, there are 28 stories in this collection, most of which are re-printed from other collections. But that is what makes this group truly remarkable. It seems like most of the time when I try to read a short story collection of numerous authors, I find that the editor has selected certain stories that will make him/her look good. "Look readers, I've collected all the forgotten bits that have here-to-fore been neglected or otherwise failed to find an audience. And now, in one massive volume, you too can be exposed to the most elite, hi-brow crap that everybody else has not found worthy to re-publish." Well, there's often a reason that it has remained hidden. I usually only find 2 or 3 really good stories in the typical collection, a handful of mediocre stories, and a bunch that should never have been published in the first place. Not so with this collection as I literally enjoyed every single one and was absolutely blown away by at least half. Also of note, there are several stories here that are original to this collection.
I guess I just click with Mr. John Joseph Adams, the editor of this collection. I plan to seek out more of his collections pronto....more
This is the third and final entry in Harry Harrison's alternate history trilogy set during the 1860's. The first book, of course, set up the notion ofThis is the third and final entry in Harry Harrison's alternate history trilogy set during the 1860's. The first book, of course, set up the notion of the American Civil War being interrupted by a British attack on New Orleans, leading to the Americans re-uniting against a new common foe. Having successfully defended itself, the US follows up in the second book by diverting another British attack through Mexico, aimed at the American's soft underbelly by assisting the Irish to gain their independence. With a threat so close to her own homeland, the British have to pull back their resources from Mexico to defend its own shores. Now comes the third book.
This time around it very much seemed as if the author had a bone to pick with the British. He writes his British characters with, at best, unenlightened military minds, and at worst, as absolute buffoons. The Americans can do no wrong, militarily or politically. They use advancements in technology to great advantage and every battle in the entire book goes exactly as planned, leaving the British generals, admirals, and political leaders, (and especially Queen Victoria), to blunder about, dithering about how dare the British Empire be subjected to this. General Sherman takes center stage in this third book, leaving Abraham Lincoln to be just a kindly old uncle figure. Generals Grant and Lee and Admiral Farragut all participate in the invasion of England but they remain mostly offstage. Invasion of England? That's right. In response to the British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston's inexplicable decision to plunder American cargo ships, Lincoln decides to put an end to this once and for all. I won't provide spoilers but let's just say that I can't imagine any British citizen today reading this and enjoying it. General Sherman's battle strategy is well laid out and makes lots of sense but it does rely on his enemies to do everything exactly as he suspects...which they do, of course. There is never any real doubt as to how it will all end, especially given the title of the book.
Having said all that, the book is an easy read... ...more
I've enjoyed quite a few alternate history novels, including some by Harry Turtledove as well as S.M. Stirling. But many times I've been disappointedI've enjoyed quite a few alternate history novels, including some by Harry Turtledove as well as S.M. Stirling. But many times I've been disappointed as well, because, no matter how interesting the hook is, no matter what tiny thing may happen to change history and launch a cool plot, it still comes down to good writing. A good novel still has to be a good story with well developed characters, etc.
This novel, Stars & Stripes in Peril is the second in the "Stars and Stripes" trilogy by Harry Harrison. This is an alternate history novel set in the Civil War era, with all the major US and Confederate historical figures interacting. In the first book, the "hook" was that Queen Victoria's husband did not live long enough to convince her not to enter the American Civil War on the Southern side...so the British did indeed enter the conflict. However, they attacked the wrong target, hitting Biloxi instead of New Orleans to stop Grant, and so the South teamed up with the North to fight a common foe. Now in this second book, the war with Britain is over but Queen Victoria isn't finished. The US forces take the war to Great Britain, fighting for the freedom of Ireland this time.
I enjoyed reading this one, mostly because it was fairly simple and straight forward. The plot was interesting and the author has thrown in lots of historical tidbits. I like seeing people like Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman, working alongside Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others in cooperation. That part was cool but, the overall characterization was lacking. I found them to be pretty flat, and one dimensional. The major historical characters always seemed to think the same and even used the same phrases. The non-historical characters came off a little better. But that was OK. I did appreciate the American's use of technology here, particularly the next generation of ironclads as well as an improved version of the Gatling gun. I have one more to read in this trilogy and I will definitely do so. ...more