Sunday, September 8, 2013

Steampunk-zombie-urban-western, anyone? Cherie Priest's Boneshaker reviewed

It's a measure of how postmodern speculative fiction has become that Cherie Priest's Boneshaker can be tagged steampunk-zombie-urban-western without anyone batting an eyelid.

 And as a general rule, that's progress. All other things being equal, I'd rather read an exercise in genre-clash throwing up new juxtapositions than yet another piece of fantasy purism. 

Or any other kind of purism, for that matter.

I mean it as a compliment of high order when I describe Boneshaker as a page-turner. It creates a believable microcosm of a toxic, undead-infested late nineteenth century Seattle, through which the protagonists - one woman and her YA son - claustrophobically wander. The story does a very Chandleresque job of having a new threat come through the door every time it threatens to slow down.

Priest's various influences play nicely together, and the the book rollicks, crawls and clanks in all the right places. What's more - Boneshaker resists cliche - a strong woman protagonist without a romantic interest who refuses to be defined by either her widowhood or her motherhood is (sadly) remarkable enough that it's worth mentioning.

While importing dirgibles and infernal machines into the Old West certainly doesn't evade the "steampunk is fascism for nice people"  challenge set by Lavie Tidhar, it does duck some of the class and authority issues the genre tends to struggle with.  

I intend to track down the sequel, and if it ventures beyond Seattle it'll be interesting to see how it deals with issues of race and empire outside a zombie-infested microcosm.

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