Posted on July 7, 2010 by Eric Pollarine
Available at Amazon.com
I’ve tried folks, honestly I have. I have tried really hard to get into Steampunk, historical fiction, neo-Victorian or whatever they are calling it these days. I know, I know, it’s the new thing; it’s the “zombie” of 2010.
But I just can’t.
I’ve even tried to read Cheri Priest’s, and God knows I am going to take a ton of flack for the very next words that I am about to type, “Boneshaker,” which crosses over genre’s with steam power and Zombies.” I looked at the back and saw that the ever brilliant and omnipresent old space bastard himself Warren Ellis, said that “Boneshaker” was Cheri Priest’s “breakout novel.” So I thought, OK-this is it, this is the moment when I find out the allure of corsets and mad scientists.
But I just can’t.
And this review isn’t even about “Steampunk.”
What? Your jaws are dropping aren’t they? I bet- it’s about George Mann’s “The Ghost of Manhattan,” released by Pyr. The back cover touts the novel as having the first “Steampunk Superhero.” I thought it was too good to be true, I thought, well I like Superhero’s; I like books with main characters that have alter egos and fantastic inventions, extraordinary powers doled out by the bite of some sort of radioactive animal. Why not pick it up? But the rational side, the one that sleeps with a machete under his side of the bed in the eventual outbreak of a zombie contagion said- NO, STOP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU FOOL, YOU’VE ALREADY TRIED THIS AND IT FAILED MISERABLY!
But I picked it up anyway, and well, like “Boneshaker” and the “Pax Britannia” line by Abaddon Books, and the “Difference Engine” and oh so many other books in the ever growing line of the “Steampunk” category, I was completely let down. Not with Mr. Mann’s handling of the genre, nor with his technical prowess with writing, though we’ll talk about that in a few. No, I was let down by the originality of the story, characters and just about everything with the book, except the cover, which was done by Benjamin Carre. It’s an exciting cover-I’ll give you that Mr. Carre and Pyr, and at this point-that’s it.
Let me explain.
Have you ever read a story that you know, absolutely know was a story that you read somewhere else, and then checked and racked your internal databanks and found you were right? Well you would if you opened up “Ghosts of Manhattan” and then scanned your shelves, if you’re like me, and looked strait at your collection of Batman graphic novels. Which, yes I know Batman is in and of him self a representation of the old Pulp novels and Magazines, and basically “The Shadow,” but unlike “Ghosts of Manhattan” Batman has evolved to a place in comics, literature or pop culture that is unprecedented. I could talk the shadowy secrets of Batman and his representations all day and night for a year strait and probably not find a lag in that conversation for more than maybe, maybe a few minutes. But this isn’t about Batman, or Zombies, or Warren Ellis, or anything else. This is about “Ghosts of Manhattan.” This is about how an author of some technical prowess and know how can produce something that’s just totally unoriginal and lack luster, because the story isn’t poorly written -nope- it’s just that the story has been done to death; and done to death far better before.
Take for instance the classic “Anti-Hero” character of “The Ghost,” or his real name of Gabriel Cross -who seems to be a particularly bad substitute for our Bruce Wayne. He even refers to himself as part of the “Lost Generation”; a title that I am sure would not have been in actual use by the participants of said generation. No, our main character is a very predictable and under developed mixture of Gatsby, Bruce Wayne and troubled war hero. We then have our damsel in distress who doesn’t know about Gabriel Cross’s alter ego of “The Ghost” Celeste Parker-a Jazz Singer in a notoriously shady speak easy. Who seems to have nothing to offer but sex appeal and a romantic foil for our “Hero.”
Rounding out the minor cast of characters is Police Inspector Donovan-a shoe in for most honest cop in a dishonest city. (where have we seen this before, oh, that’s right-Batman: Year One) And finally I have to discuss the character of “The Roman.” Which if I was going to put together a list of interesting characters from this book, it would simply be this one-over and over again. Mr. Mann does decide to deviate from the standard formula of what a mobster is, but only slightly.
Mr. Mann can write action, I will say that, and true to the “Pulp” format the dialogue is a bit tedious and underdeveloped at times. I can only hope that this was his original intention, as opposed to being simply another in a long line of errors in the creation of this book. The list of supposed “steampunk” aesthetics’ are all here, we have, well-steam, and clockwork and more steam, and more brass and more clockwork. The automaton, or golem aspect of the genre is covered by the clay and mud encrusted, God help me for saying this again, clockwork and gear insides of the machine men- who stand in as tank like guards for “The Romans” Mafioso lieutenants. And there are plenty of guts and grit, guns and broads for anyone who might be interested in the genre or “Pulp” fiction in general.
So in all fairness to Mr. Mann, I will have to say again, that this just isn’t my genre of “genre” fiction. I just don’t see the allure of middle industrial revolution neo futurism. There’s so much lacking in the form of originality and grace. Emotional attachment for the characters is simply nonexistent- and the believability factor that any of these people, any one of them, would ever do the things they do in this book-is pretty much at a point of negative ZERO.
So I say this, if you decide, like me, to get in on this whole “Steampunk” thing at least do your homework a little better, don’t buy this book, get it from the library where you can return it and get it out of your life forever, or here’s an even better piece of advice for you if you are looking into airships and corsets…first I want you to look at yourself standing in front of a mirror or highly reflective surface, turn around three times in a complete circle and then punch yourself in the face.
Because if it still seems like something you’re interested in after you put yourself through all that, then have at it –go get those goggles, brush off the frock coat and get yourself a copy of “The Ghosts of Manhattan.”
Review by Eric Pollarine