Book Review – Blaylock’s Homunculus and Lord Kelvin’s Machine

HomunculusWay back at the beginning of the year, which I realize is ancient history where the internet is concerned, I reviewed James P. Blaylock’s return-to-steampunk novel, The Aylesford Skull.  I said at the time that this was part of a series, and that while each volume was standalone, it does work even better when you get to know the characters through their previous adventures.  To that end, and by gracious invitation of Titan Books, I have quite literally plowed through reprints of those earlier adventures, Homunculus and Lord Kelvin’s Machine.  That’s both the bane and blessing of a good steampunk yarn: they’re quick reads, maybe a little too quick.  But the nature of the stories are that they’re also so absurd and so much fun, you want to go through them again.  Well, I read them many moons ago when they were first released, and reading them again after all these years, they hold up… just not in the way you might think.

lordkelvinsmachineFor those who came in late, these books follow the exploits of Langdon St. Ives and his hunchbacked nemesis, the vile Dr. Narbondo.  The two have a very Holmes / Moriarty type relationship, and their weapons of choice involve the whole of Victorian-era science-that-should-not-be.  And this is the part that holds up, but not the way you think.  Imagine if you will that you’re a learned individual in the late 1800s.  If you can wrap your head around that concept, the scientific techno-babble of the age will make perfect sense to you, probably eliciting a curt nod and a silent exclamatory,”Of course!”  From the 21st century perspective, it’s all complete and utter nonsense, and it will cause the reader to have many “WHAT?!” moments as things are explained.  Don’t let that deter you; it really is part of the fun.  Just go with it, and you’ll find yourself laughing and pulled along for the ride.  These books are not about hard science, just the delusion of hard science as the Victorians would explain it.  You get one of the best literary villains that’s never seen a screen translation, you get zombies in a way you don’t expect (refreshing in this day and age!), and you get rockets.  Put it all together in your head.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  See that?  It’s not science if it’s not MAD science!  Fun, right?  And that’s what steampunk has been about from the beginning.  It’s not about historical fact, it’s about historical fantasy and all that implies, delivered straight from one of the founding fathers of the genre.  Once the setup is in place, the action flows accordingly.  It’s the kind of story you just don’t seem to find too often in popular fiction these days, between the grimdark, oppressed volumes that line the book store shelves.  As far as I’m concerned, more like this are always welcome regardless of when they’re written.

Thanks to the reprints of these novels from Titan Books, the adventure lives again for a new generation.  I can’t recommend them enough if you love a good steampunk story like I do.

I’ve also been invited to tease that if you like Blaylock’s work, Titan is going to be making an announcement in a few weeks involving a signed limited edition of The Aylesford Skull.  The link is not yet live on their site, so check back in coming weeks if you’re interested in snagging a copy.  EDIT: That link is now live!  Go check it out!