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
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!