Earlier this year, when the novel nominees for the 2010 Hugo Award were announced, I decided to read all six. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is the fifth story I’ve finished, and I thought from the book’s blurbs the one I’d like the least. I was wrong. I thought I had a zombie prejudice, but evidently if you mix a colorful steampunk novel with great characters, zombie prejudice can be overcome.
Actually, I would find it hard to imagine any reader not liking this novel is they gave it a serious try. Sure it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re reading a novel about zombies – that is embarrassing – but I’ve found that biting the bullet and just accepting the undead as literary fashion and remembering this too shall pass, allows me to concentrate on the quality story that Boneshaker presents.
Here’s the situation, a woman and her teenage boy are the wife and son of a man that everyone hates in a alternate history 19th century Seattle. Their lives has been destroyed by this hatred, and the boy desperately wants to prove his dad had some virtues, despite what his mother confirms about his father.
This Seattle, Washington is unlike the one we know. The civil war has been going on for twenty years, and an evil inventor has caused gases from beneath Seattle to well up and kill thousands of people. To protect the country a giant wall is built around Seattle to contain the gas. However, years later some people remain within the city, living in pockets of good air, knowing that if they breathe the gas they will die, or turn into a zombie.
That description does absolutely no justice to how colorful the setting is for Boneshaker. But I don’t want to tell you too many details. I listened to the audiobook edition of this novel without knowing much about it other than it had zombies, and people called it steampunk. I would have been better even knowing less. I had low expectations and even dreaded reading it.
As soon as I started listening I didn’t want to stop. Here’s the reason why it’s up for the Hugo – it’s a damn good story. It’s just a good old fashion tale with lots of colorful characters and thrilling adventures. Robert Louis Stevenson would have loved Boneshaker. Ditto for Edgar Allan Poe, and maybe even Charles Dickens. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been jealous of its skillful twin narratives.
And I highly recommend the audiobook edition read by Kate Reading and Wil Wheaton. Yes, that’s Wesley Crusher reading the boy’s part and he gives an impressive performance. Of course Kate Reading is a superstar of the audiobook world. The Boneshaker audio production is top notch and the dramatic reading brings out all the color of the novel.
Be sure and visit The Clockwork Century where Cherie Priest lays out plans for more novels set in the strange version of our 19th century America.
By the way, this effort to read all the Hugo nominee novels has paid off handsomely. The diversity of story telling is impressive, but more than that, it’s a great snapshot of what science fiction and fantasy has become. I shall do this again next year. I’ve got one more novel to go, Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente, but the audio edition won’t be available until August 15th, still plenty of time to listen to before the awards are given over the labor day weekend. So far, they’ve all deserve the Hugo.
JWH – 7/29/10