Jumpdrives & Cantrips


Leviathan Rising

Leviathan RisingJonathan Green‘s Leviathan Rising is an intriguing introduction to the UK’s Abaddon Books. It’s the third book in the Pax Britannia series featuring Ulysses Quicksilver, the “dandy adventurer and hero of Magna Britannia.” As a Victorian-style steampunk world, complete with remnant populations of dinosaurs, a Queen Victoria who celebrated her 160th jubilee, and a Bond-esque protagonist… well, really, what’s there to lose?

Ulysses sets off on the maiden voyage of the Neptune, a massive submersible cruise-liner, though his so-called vacation quickly becomes a whodunit murder mystery involving the ship’s high society contingent. In the midst of trying to figure out the initial murder, the massive be-tentacled leviathan attacks and the remaining passengers must figure out how to escape a damaged sub sitting on the brink of the Marianas Trench, avoid being murdered by the original killer who is still somewhere in the group, and not get consumed by the rampaging leviathan in the process.

Obviously a book made with heavy intent towards pulp-like entertainment value, Leviathan Rising takes a while to get the adventure gears turning in the right direction. Jonathan Green has a habit of telling rather than showing in the beginning of the book, which slows the pace. For instance, a dinner party where Ulysses mentally provides a short history on each guest, serving as an info-dump: instead the scene could have yielded great characterization through dinner conversations.

Another problem for me was difficulty “connecting” with Ulysses Quicksilver as a protagonist. As a reader we aren’t given much in the way of back-story, and Ulysses isn’t a terribly sympathetic character. If not for his actions about midway through the book that begin to redeem his earlier snobbery and arrogance, he wouldn’t ever become sympathetic. I suspect having knowledge of his past adventures would make him more multi-dimensional, but I’m not certain since this is the first in the series I’ve read.

Leviathan Rising had a lot of potential to also serve as a back-handed comedy of manners by skewering ideas of class, race, and gender relationships. Instead the novel reinforced the structural differentials present in Victorian British society. I was taken aback at the use of Chinese characters as stereotypical, inscrutable double-crossing agents and frequently described as yellow-skinned or slanty-eyed. While possibly historically relevant in Victorian times, such blatant racial profiling is unacceptable today without further deconstruction (in contrast, Emma Bull’s Territory deals exceptionally well with historical roles of minorities).

Despite its faults, there are some areas where Leviathan Rising excels. Green has a great campy sense about his writing and word choice that is unfortunately inconsistent, but when present, it shines. The adventure parts of the book are well put-together, and keep the pages turning, especially once the writing hits a good rhythm in the second half of the novel. And I think best of all was the setting, in a high-society steampunked Victorian world that nonetheless has genetic engineering, high-tech travel, transmitting Babbage machines, and dinosaur safaris.

Jonathan Green created a fascinating world and a true adventure in Leviathan Rising, despite its inconsistencies. I’d be interested enough to take other books in the series with me for beach reading, but be sure to not expect any surprises or grand literary revelation. This book is clearly made for comforting predictability and mindless enjoyment, despite having minor cautionary themes about humanity playing God. If you’re a fan of pulps, and of tentacles, and of all-out adventure with everything that comes with it, then by all means: take the plunge.

Green, Jonathan. Pax Britannia: Leviathan Rising. Oxford: Abaddon Books, 2008. 328 pages. $7.99 (US), paperback.

See also: review at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review.

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Yay! Return of Tidbits!

I realised that I really haven’t been doing tidbits all that much lately in terms of news stuff, but to be entirely honest, not all that much has grabbed my attention lately. Though Charlton Heston’s death made me ponder whether it was in poor taste to title a post Soylent Guy Dies! followed by a semi-cannibalistic comment. In the end, as you can see, I decided against. (Soylent Tidbits for Your Consumption was very tempting, though…)

  • Martha WellsThe Element of Fire is available free with lots of nice info, if you click on the title. That led me to discover that ManyBooks.net also has books by lots of other popular authors (Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Tobias Buckell, John Scalzi) and lots of classic SF names (Andre Norton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, James H. Schmitz, E. E. “doc” Smith–I could go on and on). Not to mention all the fairy tale and folklore resources up there for anyone researching such things (Grimms complete plus many of the Andrew Lang fairy books). But I think you should go check out all these free reads! That’s only a sampling of two categories! Massive, I say–massive! And in multiple formats… Seriously, go check it out.
  • Amy Long is an artist who created crocheted and knitted tentacle-like pieces for her MFA thesis exhibit. See a slideshow on her Flickr site. To me the pieces look a little like genitalia, but so do lots of tentacle-like things… (via io9). Brings a whole new meaning to squidpunk.
  • And speaking of squidpunk, Jeff Vandermeer is not joking about the anthology. This makes me a little nostalgic, since I used to have a truly awesome squid keychain and for the longest time I was the only person I knew who liked squid (especially deep-fried and eaten). However, I do have my doubts about reading squid books. They might eat me
  • For those who enjoy the Liaden books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller there should be much happiness. 1. Ace books is reprinting the Liaden books–all 10 of them. And, 2. they sold another Liaden universe book to Baen. Now, I haven’t read this series, but I have rabid friends who are fans–er, rabid fans who are friends (via SF Scope).

In any case, I’m thoroughly enjoying Ilona Anderson’s Magic Burns so far and it is a very quick read. I also received 2 new review copies from Abaddon Books: one is Leviathan Rising by Jonathan Green (recently reviewed by Graeme) and the second is Shadow Mage by Matthew Sprange (reviewed in March by The Book Swede). Haven’t started them yet, but they look entertaining…

Off to read.

PS: Can you believe the spellcheck doesn’t recognize squidpunk?! Psssht.