Review: The Affinity Bridge

Within just a few short chapters it becomes clear that there’s a lot going on in George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge. You are immediately thrown into the fog-bound streets of London as the British Empire pulls itself into the 20th Century. Steam-powered cabs splutter down grimy cobblestones, while clockwork automatons service the homes and offices of professional types. The world is on a brink of a technological revolution and yet not all is well.

First, there is the sickening revenant plague that is transforming the lower classes into a shuffling breed of blood-thirsty cannibals. And if the fear of meeting a zombie in a back alley isn’t enough to keep you tucked up at night, a rather peculiar serial killer is loose in Whitechapel. Reports insist that the murderer is a phantom policemen, but that can’t be right, can it?

Sir Maurice Newbury, anthropologist and gentleman secret agent, has other concerns – namely the airship crash in Finsbury Park which has left 50 dead and the Crown with an embarrassment on their royal hands. What brought the doomed dirigible down and where is its mechanical pilot?

As the action unfolds it soon becomes clear that these apparently unconnected strands are all closely interwoven. The result is a riveting adventure which isn’t ashamed to wear its influences on its well-groomed sleeve. Newbury, like a certain Baker Street detective, is often amazed that witnesses miss the most obvious clues at the scene of a crime and – again like Mr Holmes – is fond of a little chemical distraction from time to time – in this case, some not-so-healthy helpings of Laudanum. At first, I did wonder if there was a need for Sir Maurice to also employ a Scottish housekeeper, but such allusions help build Mann’s world. We’re on familiar ground and the shorthand of known tropes guides you skillfully into this very particular vision of Victorian London.

This is not to say that Mann doesn’t show originality and innovation. His characterisation of Newbury’s female sidekick, Veronica Hobbes, is nothing short of superb. Her relationship with Sir Maurice, while certainly setting up a ‘will-they won’t they?’ dynamic for future stories, perfectly punctures the prejudices of the period. Veronica is the book’s greatest triumph – ballsy with out being a ball-breaker and courageous with losing her more ladylike sensibilities.

The Affinity Bridge is the first of hopefully many Newbury and Hobbes investigations and while Mann’s melodrama is beautifully self-contained, the author is obviously setting out his stall for further adventures. Some unresolved questions hang in the air after the last page is turned. Where will Sir Maurice’s fascination with the black arts take him? What fate awaits Veronica’s psychic sister? And just what are Queen Victoria’s plans for the Empire?

I for one look forward to finding out.

THE STEAMBLOG BOOKSHOP

The Affinity Bridge
by George Mann
Snowbooks (2008)
– Click here for Amazon.co.uk –
– Click here for Amazon.com –

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Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 7:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Snow Devil

Now, steampunk purists will balk at this post as the subject hails from the 1920s (it should proabably be classed as dieselpunk, but lets not go there right now.)

Inventor Frederick R. Burch filed the patent for the Snow Motor vehicle on 27 November 1920. Six years later the January edition of Time magazine that the design had been taken up by Snow Motors Inc, a new subsidery of Detroit Motors. The machine, which could reach speeds of between six to eight miles per hour, was said to be able to handle the deepest snowdrifts thanks to a Fordson tractor power-plant mounted of two revolving cylinders instead of wheels.

The following silent demonstration film, found via intonarumori, shows the beast in action.

The Snow Devil

Over time, the vehicle became known as the Snow Devil and visitors can see an example at the Hays Antique Truck Museum in Woodland, California (shown right – picture courtesy of Wikipedia). This particular example used to battle the snow of the  the Truckee area of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains to make sure that the US mail got through.

If you fancy building your own, Burch’s original patent can be found here.

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sherlock Holmes versus all kinds of madness

A lot of people I know have moaned about Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movie, claiming that it wasn’t true to Conan Doyle’s creation. This, of course, is complete poppycock and only goes to show that they have never read any of the stories. One chap was incensed that Holmes would use any form of violence, let alone in a boxing match. True, none of the short stories have shown such a graphic scene but we know from  The Sign of Four that Holmes is a bit tasty when it comes to bare-knuckle boxing.

If people thought that Richie’s offering was not in keeping with Holmes and co then what the blazes are they going to make of this?

So Watson kept the story of a mechanical fire-breathing dragon, rogue T-Rex, sea monsters and an steampunky Iron Man out of the journals in deference to Holmes’ wishes did he?

This looks truly terrible and utterly bonkers.

I therefore have to see it. Apparently that will be possible after January 26th. Hang on. That’s today. Hurrah!

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Weird Tales Steampunk Spectacular

Weird Tales gets steampunked

I dip into Weird Tales – the modern incarnation of the classic pulp magazine – every now and then and always enjoy what I find. I’m busting my boiler with the news that the Spring issue is going to be a steampunk special. Just cast your eye over that lovely cover, courtesy of sfcrowsnest.com.

That could be just what I need to finally persuade me to finally get that subscription order in…

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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Curious contraptions: 1989 Gameboy

The DMG-01

The DMG-01

One of most endearing aspects of the steampunk genre is the creativity it brings out in people. There’s something about it that really fires the imagination, especially when it comes to the intricate Jules Verne stylings that artists give every day modern objects.

Take this old 1989 GameBoy for example. A real blast from my personal past in the first place, but console customiser Thretris has taken retro to the extreme with this ornate, distressed facelift. All of the buttons still work, all those burnished cogs and delicate engraving added for sheer effect. You’ve got to love the attention to detail when the artist goes so far as to add an orange LED because it seems more in keeping. The entire mod took Thretris a week to complete.

For more images of the steampunked DMG-01 head over here.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Welcome

I’ve always loved the gas-lit streets of Victorian England, swathed in their constant claustrophobic pea-soupers and populated by screws, peelers and muck snipes. As a child, it seemed such an exciting world, so different to our own and yet so peculiarly similar. After all, our great grandparents were Victorians weren’t they? The alien shore of the past was still within our reach.

My family’s religious heritage probably helped. I was brought up in a Salvationist home, our line going right back to the early day’s of William Booth’s movement. Even growing up in the 70s, the Salvation Army of the day had much in common with its Victorian roots – the uniforms, military terminology and brass bands. The links to yesteryear were firm.

Then a few years ago, I first heard the phrase Steampunk, that strange sub-division of speculative fiction that re-imagines the Victorian age. What if the denizens of the late 19th century had technology from beyond their years – robots, computers and even spaceships? In this fantastic world you are just as likely to encounter an alien as you would an unfortunate in the grimy district of Whitechapel.

The dreaded Peking Homunculus and a dodgy rat threaten a very Victorian Doctor

It was like coming home. You see, I had been a fan of Steampunk long before I’d even heard the term, thanks largely to a cult British TV series known as Doctor Who. For years I had followed the time-travelling Doctor back to Victorian Britain to encounter mummies from Mars, static electrical space-portals and the devilish Peking Homunculus.

Then there was Hammer Horror. Those late night fright-fests watched when Mum and Dad thought I’d gone to sleep introduced me to Christopher Lee menacing the likes of Terry from Minder in a strange world where bosoms always seemed to be heaving and the night sky looked suspiciously like funny-coloured daylight. Baron Frankenstein was up to no-good in stiff collars and even more mummies stomped and smashed their way through balsa sets. Sublime.

Both Hammer and Doctor Who also introduced me to the occupants of 221B Baker Street as Tom Baker swapped his scarf and capacious pockets for a deerstalker and Cushing and Lee romped over Surrey, doing their best to pretend it was Dartmoor. By the time Jeremy Brett made his first, oh-so-beautifully arrogant appearance I was hooked.

So here, is my occasional tribute to steampunk, steampulp, gaslight fantasy, neo-victoriana or whatever you want to call the ever-growing and ever-changing genre. Along the way we’ll take in Holmes, horror and maybe even some proper history to boot.

It’s going to be the most singular adventure.

Drive on cabby!

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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