The front cover of this book states “tales of valour to divert and enthrall”, and this really does summarize the whole story. It’s well written and engaging but easily forgettable. This is another book that I recommend for those situations where you want to while away some time, such as on a train journey or a flight and, at the end, throw the book away.
Ulysses Quicksilver is an agent of the government of Pax Britannia. He is a dandy and an “awfully good fellow.” He is heroic, with many previous adventures up his sleeve (and published previously). Pax Britannia exists in an alternative steampunk universe where Britain has conquered the earth and steam-driven robots, vehicles and Babbage engines are common place.
The story opens with Ulysses meeting Emilia, his estranged fiance and her ill father, Alexander Oddfellow in their house. Oddfellow has designed and built a device called the Sphere which can teleport people. But the evil Daniel Dashwood, with two of his henchmen, has been funding it so they can support the Nazis and take control of the world. With the help of his butler, Nimrod, Ulysses manages to damage the Sphere just as the evil Daniel and his henchmen enter it and they disappear.
Ulysses then decides on a trip to the moon to see his estranged brother, Barty, and finds that Emilia and Oddfellow are also on the flight, along with a couple, Mr Lars Chapter and Miss Veronica Verse, who, by their love of weapons, and lustful behaviour are clearly bad guys.
And thus the scene is set for rip-roaring adventures, starting with the Martian colonies attacking the space liner. After arriving on the moon, Ulysses finds his brother murdered and vows to avenge him. The assassins, Chapter and Verse, try to kill him. And so on.
The story has a number of weakness, typical of the genre (so maybe they aren’t weaknesses at all) such as:
• Poorly defined and stereotypical characters – Nimrod, the butler is especially poorly presented considering how important he is to Ulysses.
• Serious injuries, including concussion, that are easily forgotten after a day so that the heroes can carry on fighting.
• No insights into why characters are so irredeemably evil.
It reminds me of the science fiction I read and loved as a child and has the same simplistic appeal and casual disregard for any science, even allowing for the steampunk genre. Basically, it is a series of set piece action scenes, each becoming more direly inescapable in turn but they will always heroically escape at the last possible minute.
The steampunk world is based on Victorian scientific knowledge with the addition of an anti-gravity substance, cavorite. The technological artifacts are well described and evocative of what could have happened if there was a way to build robots and spaceships using stream engines.
From the first page it is obvious that the plot is based on “Overcoming the Monster” (see The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker).
I give it the following positive award, which the author will probably like (all awards are out of five).
• Three huge rolling balls in a jungle temple for keeping a good pace throughout.
I also give it the following awards which the author may not appreciate quite so much.
• One car running out of petrol (you’ll know which car in the next paragraph) just at the end of the chase scene, for departing at the last moment from a classic “overcoming the monster” ending. It didn’t suit the novel and as a result was a bit unsatisfying.
• Five DeLoreans for a weak attempt at addressing the paradoxes of time travel, but really ending up with the same old problems.
• Eight giant steam-driven spiders (yes that’s eight out of a possible maximum of five and you know which movie I’m referring to) for a casual disregard of engineering constraints (weight, component strength, levers and forces) that prevent the building of huge steam driven monstrosities.
To summarize, this is a good fun light read that you can use as a diversion on a train journey or flight. If you don’t expect too much from it you’ll enjoy it thoroughly.