?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Steampunk & Darwinism - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

[ website | KJC Edits - let me edit you! ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Steampunk & Darwinism [Jan. 27th, 2010|02:27 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
[Tags|, , ]


Just finished Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan (in hardcover) and found it to be pretty freakin' awesome. It's alternative history, set in 1914 (on the eve of World War I), with the Germans & Austrians really into their "clank" and zeppelin technology for making war while England and her allies use living ecosystems based on techniques discovered by Darwin for mixing "the threads of life" from different organisms to create new ones. Each considers the other's technology barbaric, of course.

Much of the action takes place aboard the Leviathan, a giant hydrogen-producing sky-faring whale. Well, sort of a whale. One you can walk around inside of, with bees. And bats. And hawks. And message lizards. Oh and a human crew. Plus glow worms.

It's young adult fiction, so the primary characters are fifteen/sixteen, but they're interesting kids and it's a fantastic piece of world-building. The two main characters don't meet until halfway through the book, so that was a bit frustrating switching back and forth between their separate tales, but the story moves quite quickly and I'm glad the characters each had their own experiences before coming together.

One warning: it stops rather abruptly after 434 pages, in an only mildly cliff-hangering fashion, but supposedly the sequel is due out in October, which is only kind of a tortuously long time away.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: librarybrandy
2010-01-27 06:50 am (UTC)
I'm starting to think I'm the only person who didn't love this the way I wanted to. I love Westerfeld's other books and think he does a fantastic job of world-building in them, but this one just didn't feel real to me. More importantly, it didn't feel (to me) like Westerfeld himself believed in the world he was creating.

Plus the whole book read a little young to me, more like early-middle school instead of his upper-middle to high school age audience. The illustrations don't help, and the "older" cover art made me expect an older book. (The original cover art was by the same artist as the interior illustrations and looked younger; I might not feel so snookered by it if it had remained--but the publisher wanted something that would appeal to older readers, and that's how we got the new cover art. Which is gorgeous.)

I'm usually a sucker for sequels--I hate that nearly every speculative-fiction book published for kids/teens has a sequel, but once I read one book in the series I generally want to know more about that world. In this case, though, I'm just not clamoring for the next one, and I'm sort of disappointed in myself for that.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-01-27 04:51 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry you didn't love it. It certainly wasn't a perfect book and I'm more than happy to wait a bit for the sequel.

Maybe, because I was really jonesin' for more steampunk after BONESHAKER I was more ready to love it than you were? I also enjoy military strategics, which not everybody does.

What did you think of his UGLIES/PRETTIES series? I'm a-scared to try it in case it pushes ALL of my low self-esteem buttons.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: librarybrandy
2010-01-28 12:44 am (UTC)
I've heard good things about Boneshaker, but haven't read it yet. There's not a whole lot of steampunk for teens, which is why I was so excited about this one (and I generally like Westerfeld's writing), but this just didn't cut the mustard for me. I was poised to love it based on the cover art, but when the writing didn't mesh with that cover, it all fell apart for me.

(Also, my above post was written at about 4:45 this morning, after I'd been staring at the wall for a little over an hour instead of sleeping, so forgive any incoherency. Now, I have no excuse.)

The UGLIES series is interesting in a lot of ways--as with most series books, of course, it gets progressively weaker as the series drags on (skip Extras and just pretend it's a trilogy--and even then the last book of it isn't that great). The first book really impressed me, though. The basic premise is that not everyone wants to get the surgery to become Pretty on their 16th birthday, but those people who don't want it are forced to flee society all together--and the government wants to track them down and force it on them. Tally (the main character) wants to be made pretty, but only because it's what she's always known, culturally--once she gets a taste of what life could be like she gets a better sense (or perspective might be a better word here) of what's wrong with the society she's accustomed to. Also there's more action, and a better sense that Westerfeld had his head in this world completely as he was writing it.

I don't think it would push self-esteem buttons, since there aren't any real value judgments on an individual basis--it's mostly "these people have had the surgery, so they're Pretty now because their eyes/bone structure is symmetrical and/or they've had other enhancements; these people are Ugly because they have a more natural look to them"--but there's nothing like "this one is ugly because his left eye is slightly narrower than his right" or "that prominent jaw is the reason I'm repulsed from looking at this person." There's a scene where Tally is looking at fashion magazines from (roughly) our time, and declaring the supermodels ugly because they don't conform to exactly what her society turns people into.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: librarybrandy
2010-01-28 12:48 am (UTC)
[I have no idea how to edit an LJ reply, so I'm replying instead of just adding this in]

I really liked the ideas he had here, with the Clankers vs Darwinists, but the characters never came alive for me and the world never felt as true as some others he's developed. I might have loved this if this had been my introduction to Westerfeld, but it's just not up to his standards, IMO. Great ideas, shoddy execution.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: candle_light
2010-01-27 10:43 am (UTC)
Thanks for the review. It sounds quite interesting and I've just requested it from the library for Isaac and I.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: istemi
2010-01-27 11:42 am (UTC)
Same here. Thanks. I'm looking for a few good books.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-01-27 04:52 pm (UTC)
I definitely would like to know what ya think, once you've read it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-01-27 04:51 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. Let me know what you & the lad think.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)