Crazy Hugo Project: Boneshaker

Little Kitty helps out from her cat fort. Did she like Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker? I think she was more disgruntled from being woken up.

I finished my first of the Hugo Nominee novels today so I thought I’d write a little bit about it, sort of like a review but mostly so I can remember what I liked and didn’t like about reading it. I may not remember the awesome subtle nuances of each book after 6 novels so here are my thoughts. First of all, is that not a gorgeous cover? I confess that when I saw this on John Scalzi’s Big Idea a while back the cover called out to me to go and buy this book. RIGHT NOW! I waited, of course, because my capitalistic impulses are not the boss of me (mostly) but as soon as I decided that I might do this Crazy Hugo Thing I went right out and picked me up a copy of Boneshaker. I swear though, it was at least 3 days after I read about it on the Big Idea. See? Self control.

In short, Boneshaker is a story about a mother and son connecting through hardship and peril in a Wild West/Steampunk backdrop. With Zombies. The longer version looks more like this: The book begins in 1863 with a prequel chapter explaining how things in Seattle got to be the way they are; namely the center district is walled off and full of zombies (rotters) and poison zombie making gas (blight). A genius inventor, Leviticus Blue, wins a Russian sponsored contest to make a drilling rig capable of mining the Klondike gold. He builds his contraption (the titular Boneshaker) but on the test run the machine goes crazy and chews under the Seattle financial district, collapsing most of it and releasing the poisonous gas. In the commotion he disappears.

Sixteen years later, the story picks up with Briar, the widow Blue, (who has dropped the ‘Blue’ and now goes by her maiden name Wilkes) and her son Zeke. They live in the Outskirts (the non-walled off portion of Seattle) and she works double shifts at the water reclamation plant just to keep them fed. Both of them have had a hard time of it what with their close association with Dr. Blue as well as Briar’s father, who is either a hero or a criminal for letting the prisoners out of the jail when the Blight hit. Zeke gets it into his head to clear his father and/or his grandfather’s name with hard proof of their innocence which can only be found in the Blight contaminated walled off portion of the city. He plans to be in and out before supper but the best laid plans and all. Briar comes home, finds Zeke gone and sets out after him.

The story is pretty simple and straight forward: Kid goes traipsing off dangerously to clear his fathers and grandfather’s name and the mother goes in after him to get him out. In the interim there is a nicely paced story where each is trying to survive the Blight section as well as find the other one (once Zeke learns that his mother came in after him). There are, of course, the ever present threat of Rotters, who want noting more than to eat brains, but there are also criminal elements in the Blight areas that are just as dangerous. Boneshaker gets in, tell sits story and gets out without a lot of fuss or loose ends. Even the ends which are not wrapped up seem natural to the story so that it doesn’t feel like anything got left out. IN short, I really loved the read and was immensely satisfied when it was done.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was that it was written in frontier vernacular. People don’t pay no never mind about stuff and all that quaint Wild Westy-ness which tickled me pink. One of the things that endeared me to Joss Whedon’s Firefly was his clever turn of frontier phrase and Priest has somewhat of the same quaintness. She is not as “in your face look how clever I can write folksy dialog” as Whedon; sometimes Whedon is too clever for his own good. Priest writes her folksy frontier naturally so that the people seem real. They talk that way because that’s the way they’ve always talked, versus because that’s the way they were written.

By the way, the book is printed in sepia ink which is really kinda cool and also Wild West reminiscent but murder on the eyes in low light. Pretty, neat, and hard to read at the brew pub.

Boneshaker seems pretty light on the Science Fiction, although it has a smattering of Steampunk (mostly it is fairly consistent with normal history save the steam engine is the dominant power source) and is definitely an alternate reality story. There are a few crazy inventions but they stem primarily from one mad scientist which is not all that implausible in that time period. There are also a lot of airships which is pretty cool, I love me a dirigible. However, the focus is on the relationship and struggles of Briar and Zeke, the rest is merely backdrop and setting.

I really enjoyed this book quite a lot but I wonder if the fairly direct story and the incidental Sci-Fi might hurt its Hugo chances. At the moment, Boneshaker is tops on my Hugo Nomination list, but it’s also the only Novel nominee I’ve read so far. I’ll post my standings anyway just to get a start on them:

1. Boneshaker

No matter what happens though, I am definitely going to pick up the next two books in the same universe (due out soon).

2009: Oh what the heck? I missed a every day in the history of the booniverse this year!

2008: However, it seems that if you break a violet’s root into two, you get two violets. If you rototill a violet’s roots into a dozen small pieces, you get a dozen small violets.

2007: I may have also done a little dance of major project accomplishment complete with “I wrock the gardening yo” butt shimmy.

2006: I still love Brits and their Briticisms. Rath-arh! Tut-tut! I still don’t understand cricket.

2005: Fortunately, they do not have opposable thumbs and the house was still standing.

2004: When you go up north, you gotta stop here and get you some whitefish fresh from the lake.

2003: Oh yeah, and learn to BS with style and sincerity. It’s the most valuable skill I came away with in college.

One Response to “Crazy Hugo Project: Boneshaker”

  1. Adam Brooks Says:

    Joss Whedon is a great director, most of the science fiction series that i love are created by him.~`,

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