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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

What I'm Reading

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


I've been re-reading some stuff from my library for research, but I've still had time to read some new (to me, at least) books.

First up is Mainspring and Escapement by Jay Lake. I love some good worldbuilding, and Lake has it in spades here. It's an alternate reality/Steampunk/clockwork universe. The entire world is set on clockwork. The equator is essentially a giant gear. There's civilization all along (and up) the gear wall, but a strict physical divide between the two halves of the planet. Victoria still rules the British Empire, which includes America.

In Mainspring, a young apprentice to a clockmaker is visited by a clockwork angel and told that the mainspring to the Earth is winding down, and he has to rewind it. In order to get to the mainspring, he has to cross the equatorial wall and go to the South Pole. The lower half of the globe is said to be full of savages and magicians, but no one knows for certain as the wall seems to be impossible to scale. Of course, there are airships and plenty of clockwork and steam-driven contraptions, but they don't drive the story, if you'll pardon the pun.

The sequel, Escapment, involves a girl who builds a clockwork device that has the capability of changing the world. On the surface it's one of those "you can see where this is going" kind of stories. Much intrigue, the wrong folks trying to get hold of the device, and so on. But again, the devices don't drive the story as much as the journeys of the human - and not quite human - characters.

Both books are cracking good reads.

Next up, Gail Carriger's Soulless and Changeless. The first book seemed to start off a bit slow, but then it took off. The books take place in an alternate reality/Steampunk Victorian England. Werewolves and Vampires are generally recognized in society, and their activities watched and regulated to an extent. It's generally understood that only those with an excess of soul can survive the transition to the supernatural. Alexia Tarabotti has no soul - none whatsoever. And what's a proper spinster to do when a vampire attempts to bite her without so much as a "by your leave?"

Carriger has built a fascinating world. Vampires and werewolves are people, too - to an extent - with human motives and desires. This makes for a rich tapestry of characters. The supernaturals have their own police of sorts, and a spot in Her Majesty's government. Alexia Tarabotti herself is not your average "kick ass" paranormal heroine. She can certainly take care of herself, but she's still bound by Victorian manners - and the corsets.

Tarabotti has an love/hate relationship with Lord Maccon, an alpha werewolf who also leads the investigative arm of an agency that keeps track of paranormals. I would go more into the plot, but I wouldn't want to give anything away about the relationship and how it changes over the course of the two books. The next book in the series, Blameless, is due out in a couple of months. I look forward to reading it.

The last book on the "just finished" stack is FlashForward, by Robert J. Sawyer. I'd planned to read this, but wanted to wait until the season finished. I didn't want to get spoiled on the plot. And now, Sawyer is going to attend FenCon for one day, so I figured I'd better get cracking. (Full disclosure: I'm chair this year.)

The TV series is rather loosely based on the book, and I understand why. Most of the activity in the book centers around the CERN Large Hadron Collider. There were no FBI agents. It's a very Euro-centric book in terms of plot and characters. The bulk of the book also takes place over a very short period of time, with everyone catching a glimpse of the future 21 years later. I can certainly understand many of the changes that were made for the TV series.

So, how do the two compare? The book has a much smaller cast of characters, so many of the key events (someone discovering he would be murdered prior to the date in the future, a suicide, and a few other key plot items) take place, but not among so many people. I'm trying to be deliberately vague here because I don't want to ruin the book. It goes in a very different direction from the TV series, and I can understand why. The plot, the characters, and the direction were too limited to carry an ongoing television drama. Of course, that's not a slam against the book. The small group of characters made for a more focused story, which is more in keeping with the finite length of a book. (In fact, I think the TV series suffered from not enough focus. I suspect they could have ditched a few characters and told the story better. But this isn't a review of the series.)

There is a lot more hard science in the book, as you'd expect. If you're not a hard science reader, don't let that put you off. Ultimately, FlashForward is a book about humanity, and the choices we make every single day. If you're one of those who liked the concept of the TV series, I strongly suggest you read the book.

That just about catches me up. Go forth and read. Support authors, please.

Tags: What I'm Reading

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7/11/2010 2:15:05 PM
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