A Steampunk Diversion

Retribution_Falls_Cover I am a fairly regular consumer of science fiction and fantasy stuff, but I have not spent a lot of time reading within the Steampunk sub-genre.  This changed recently when the writer of a gaming blog I follow recommended Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls.  When someone tries to sell me on a book, I have often found myself most easily swayed when the “seller” employs a handy comparison to something I already know. So when this blogger casually compared Retribution Falls to a Steampunk version of Firefly, I immediately opened a new window in the catalog and placed a hold on it!  I consider Firefly and the universe Joss Whedon built around it to be some of the best sci-fi I’ve ever encountered.

The action in Retribution Falls takes place on the planet of Atalon, a world not unlike our own in the late 19th century. Technology and warfare benefit greatly from steam-powered engines, crude electricity, and a lighter-than-air gas called Aerium, a substance so precious two wars have been fought over it. Trade relies upon airships to move goods between the rugged lands that separate the various major cities of Vardia, the home country of our intrepid heroes rogues.

Mr. Wooding’s characters in Retribution Falls all share one critical element with the crew of Whedon’s  Firefly–they’re all broken in one way or another.  Like Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly, Captain Darian Frey in Retribution Falls will do whatever it takes to keep his ship flying, but in the latter case the environment is terrestrial versus the deep space of the Whedon’s ‘Verse. If Wooding falls down anywhere in this book the lapses occur in making some of his characters too flawed. The crew of Wooding’s Ketty Jay wind up a lot less likable than the gallant rogues of Whedon’s Serenity. This does not spoil the book however, which expertly combines steampunk, military sci-fi, and a dash of political intrigue into a pleasing brew that makes me eager to finish the final few pages and move on to its sequel, The Black Lung Captain.

Beyond that the steampunk genre remains a bit of mystery to me. I will most certainly dive into the NoveList database for some recommendations, but I would also be curious what folks reading this blog might recommend. Got any great steampunk suggestions? Is William Gibson’s The Difference Engine worth a checkout?  What else?

Thanks for any feedback!

–Scott

8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Steampunk Diversion

  1. I was intrigued before, but once you mentioned Firefly I was sold! Now I have to go hunt down this thing… Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I will have to check this out! Also, thanks for mentioning NoveList. I did a project on it for library school, and it is such a great resource offered by CLP. Every reader can benefit from it!

  3. Kira

    I am definitely intrigued by this one…I love Firefly and had a steampunk-themed Halloween party this year, so it sounds like something I would like. For more suggestions, I would recommend:
    1. The Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (It’s set in an alternate history Europe during WWI, they have genetically engineered flying whales for airships)
    2. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff. (Feudal Japan meets apocalyptic environmental disaster, mythical creatures)
    3. The Wizard Hunters (and the rest of the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy) by Martha Wells. (Very magic-based, but with magical-mechanical devices and traveling between worlds.)
    4. Anything written by Paolo Bacigalupi. The Windup Girl was a little intense for me, but I liked the world (post-oil Thailand, one of the main characters is an android). Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities are set in a similar world but intended for teens.

  4. Great suggestions! Thanks!

  5. Just finished Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. A Steampunk/ZOMBIE novel! Loved it… but I may be slightly biased (full disclosure… I own a Zombie store in Pittsburgh, PA).

  6. “Women of Nell Gwynne’s” http://bit.ly/YxkTOM
    and “Not Less than Gods” http://bit.ly/ZGHPw7
    by Kage Baker (one of my favorite authors)…

  7. Scott

    More great suggestions! Thanks!

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