Ios book review: Boneshaker, By Cherie Priest
Attack of the Victorian zombies
Sunday 25 November 2012
The term "steampunk" was coined in the 1980s by KW Jeter as a catch-all for the type of novels written by himself, Tim Powers and James Blaylock. The general ingredients of a steampunk novel are an English Victorian setting, advanced (generally steam-powered or clockwork) technology, airships, breathless derring-do and a smattering of magic; the whole package riffing on the likes of H G Wells and Jules Verne.
This sub-genre of science fiction is having something of a resurgence today. And after selling more than 100,000 copies in her native US, and while in the process of being adapted by the revitalised Hammer Films studio, Cherie Priest's 2009 novel Boneshaker has finally received UK publication, with the rest of her Clockwork Century series to follow at a fair lick.
Priest has avoided a cartoon pastiche of Victorian literature, instead carefully constructing her own, alternate, history in a late 19th- century America where the Civil War is still being fought in the East, and set in Seattle, which has just suffered an apocalyptic event. Some years prior to the action, the inventor Leviticus Blue designed a huge earth-moving device. But the machine – the Boneshaker – ran amok, devastating Seattle and releasing from deep in the earth a mysterious gas called the Blight. As if the destruction wasn't bad enough, the Blight turned the dying into flesh-ravenous zombies, and central Seattle has to be walled off, Escape from New York style, and is left to rot.
It is into this fraught environment that Briar Wilkes goes in search of her errant son. She is a remarkable protagonist who might pleasantly surprise – down at heel, in her thirties, with no cleavage on display and no thoughts of romantic entanglements – or anything else save finding her son.
Given the current craze for the shambling undead, Boneshaker could easily have become just another zombie thriller. But while the "rotters", as they are known in Seattle, are an ever-present threat, they're never in danger of intruding into the superb world-building and characterisation. Which means that the thrilling Boneshaker will survive the ebb and flow of fashions and sub-genres within the broad church of science fiction.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lucy Hawking: Stephen Hawking's daughter writes impassioned open letter to Katie Hopkins about rights of disabled people
- 2 #NotGuilty: Second Oxford student writes of brutal rape by two men who then threw her in a bin as part of campaign against victim blaming
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
May the Fourth Be With You: The internet celebrates Star Wars Day with new Twitter symbols and memes
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils