Since I loved Neal Stephenson’s books about old technology, someone suggested the steampunk genre and handed me this book. It takes place in a alternative future dystopia where we have very capable machines and technologies, but no computers. Things run on steam and cities are dank dangerous and dripping with ooze and slime that Mieville describes in great detail. There are a variety of human and non-human occupants of the fetid city who live in close quarters sometimes well adn sometimes poorly. This story is about a scientist, his non-human girlfriend and an escaped pack of monsters that threatens the city. There is also an exile from a band of birdmen type creatures who is hoping to regain flight.
The book is great, creepy, interesting and long. While I enjoyed reading about every sodden sidewalk, tilting building and rotting river, it got tiresome as I became more and more curious how the plot details were going to work out. Mievielle includes a map at the beginning which implied to me that the book would have something to do with the geography of place, but really it’s about decay in its many forms and the actions of semblances of governments, relationships and nature under the heavy weight of neglect and distinterest. This book was so singularly itself, that I think I am still going to have to look for more examples of the steampunk genre to see if it’s one that I enjoy or not.
Any book that has the phrase “don’t fuck with me” in the second sentence probably has something to tell me. This story is about paradigms and, more specifically, religion. It’s built upon the premise that when people moved to what is now the United States, over the previous milennia, they took their gods from their homelands with them. These gods had to set up shop in a new world and eventually most were almost entirely forgotten and lingered on in various half-alive ways. If you’ve seen The Year Without a Santa Claus, you’ll know what I mean. Now the new gods of technology, media, computers and so forth have challenged the old gods to some unspecificed battle. In the center of all of this is ex-con Shadow who is all human but gets to interact with the gods as they get together, discuss strategy and eventually fight. He meets other humans and other gods-as-humans and generally tries to make sense of his world.
Knowledge of religion is not necessary in this thick and well-written fairy tale. Some of the gods that Gaiman outlines were familiar to me, others less so. He takes care at the beginning to say that while many of the characters and locations in the novel are fictional, “the gods are real” so it’s fun to see how to moves them to this country and tells their stories. The book is really a great parable for just about any “out with the old and in with the new” tale, and this is less a story about religion than it is about faith or belief or even just how to get by when the chips are down. With my perspective, I saw it as a story about libraries, but I’m sure you could get your own particular pet topic to be reflected in Gaiman’s broad and well written set of ideas.
I’m not sure how a book that was published almost two years ago wound up #35 on Amazon’s best-seller list, but I guess it’s that sort of Oprah book that is all the rage among people who buy huge quantities of books. If you like those sort of heartwarming “person who has had it very rough finds comfort in a place she would have never expected” books, this is really a great example of it. Lily is a girl who grows up practically motherless in a house ruled by a tyrannical angry Dad. Her only real companion is her housekeeper. Long story short, they run away, take up with a houseful of eccentric black women and learn the art of beekeeping. This all takes place in the mid-sixties South when race relations are particularly problematic. Lily is white, the houseful of women are all black.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like this book, I did, it’s just that it seemed like a familiar theme with all the parts you expected [a forbidden love, an ugly duckling turned beautiful, an evil patriarch or two, the eccentric house on the hill] and nothing else. Kidd is a great writer and if you haven’t read a slough of beekeeping books, there will probably be enough honey imagery to keep you interested even if the familiar storyline doesn’t captivate.