Look Homeward, Clockwork Angel by Elias Anderson and E.C. Belikov (2011)
Stanford Parker has a choke-hold on the legalized slave industry. Breeding his brand of clones for whatever horror his clients may have in mind—from hard labor to spare organs—there’s no questioning his product’s quality. But his days may be numbered when someone hires the crew of the airship Masamune to put him out of business. Violet: the gun-slinging airship captain, Moriarty: a disgraced former Inspector, and Tibbs: a genius inventor struggling with a ‘pheta addiction, have a tall order in front of them in bringing down Parker’s heavily defended ranch. They have a plan, but a secret from one of their pasts will endanger the mission; tensions between Violet and Tibbs over differing moral ideals will heighten; and Moriarty’s inquisitive nature will draw him to ask: why haven’t they met their client?
Look Homeward, Clockwork Angel is the first in a series of Steam Punk novellas and stories chronicling the harrowing post-apocalyptic adventures of the crew of the airship Masamune and the lives they touch along the way.
Though the premise makes it look like your standard-issue adventure fare, Look Homeward, Clockwork Angel plumbs unexpected depths to make the reading experience quite worth your while. The prose is certainly hardworking. It never lets the reader forget its steampunk roots as it weaves generous descriptions and terminologies into the alternative western story. I didn’t feel that there was an excess of information provided; the wordbuilding was on-key. Unfortunately, there are times when the text descends into dry, almost didactic narrative of the tell, not show variety (‘Moriarty now sat down to a hot meal and thought back at that fiery day, seven months ago, when what was now his family, for better or worse, had come together’ p20) and forced sentiment (Violet compares a suitor to ‘a lone rose in the middle of a pallid desert wasteland’ p32). Thankfully, the uneveness doesn’t last long. At 30,000 or so words, things tend to move pretty quickly. Aside from an obligatory origin chapter, the action is managed well, each move calculated, nothing wasted.
I was ready to write this off as a run-of-the-mill action-adventure story when the last few chapters happened. This is when things really get interesting, and it switches the dynamic of the story from a oneshot adventure session into a harsh moral dilemma. Although there are already hints of issues cropping up in previous chapters (most intriguing for me was the Augmentation Society and its implications), what occurs in the last third of the book is a major turning point not just for the story but for the world it inhabits.
I thought the characters here were a mixed bag. Take Violet, the captain. I don’t adhere to the school of thought that to escape female stereotypes, a beautiful woman must be anti-female; in this novella, Violet hates dresses and heels, hates being ordered for, hates being reminded that she is a woman. Even when her past is revealed and in the light of what had happened to her, I believe we can expect more challenging characterizations from our authors than the shopworn variety. I’m also not convinced of Moriarty’s role in this enterprise. I’m guessing his presence in the triumvirate is to be the moral compass, the everyman that may give the readers familiar ground, but so far there is little development in his area. The most intriguing character in my opinion is Tibbs, whom at first I had written off as a mere third wheel. In the course of the novel he had leaped to the forefront as a gamechanger. Most of your questions about the characters are answered by the time the novella closes, and I appreciated that the authors didn’t feel the need to tease the readers more than was necessary.
One thing that greatly bothered me in this book was the way Violet, Moriarty, and Tibbs treated Harris, a secondary character who had the job they needed to fulfill theirs. Suffice to say that it left me just as horrified as what Parker had been doing at his ranch. Whether it had been deliberately made to add to the existing issues of the book or not, it had me reassessing my opinion of the crew.
Let’s talk marketing and branding for a moment. Judging books by their cover is a reader-response that most authors must deal with. Look Homeward, Clockwork Angel‘s own cover is cleanly-executed but it has grim and serious quality to it. While it does echoes the heavier themes that the novella bravely tackles, I also think the tough alternative western, action-adventure aspect of the novella could be further highlighted to draw more interest to the e-book. Another suggestion would be tighter editing. The western slang adds color and can’t be faulted, but the novella could use another editing eye (with careful attention to comma use).
In the end, despite my problems with the uneven prose, I still found this a solid effort and a laudably courageous start. It looks like there is plenty to look forward to — both in action and in character growth — as the rest of the series unfolds.
You might like this if you like…
Steampunk; alternate westerns; action-adventure; Firefly
Posted on October 14, 2011, in 3 stars, Alternate Westerns and Weird West, Chris Reviewed, E. C. Belikov, Ebook Reviews, Elias Anderson, Look Homeward Clockwork Angel, Science fiction, Steampunk. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.