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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Monster-crewed airships of the Georgian Fleet Air Arm

There have been enough posts about Frankenstein's Legions of late that I probably don't need to recap it here. In case you missed the details, it's not my recently-revamped example of next-gen interactive literature, published by Profile Books, which was not a genre work, but instead a steampunk universe in which Frankenstein's technology is used to create armies of endlessly recycled body parts.

The novel, by award-winning SF author John Whitbourn, has been available on Kindle for some time. But not everybody likes an ebook (it has been forcefully brought home to me in comments here) so this month Spark Furnace has published a whopping great paperback edition of the book. It's a large-format, 356-page monster that you will need to keep chained in the cellar if you have any pet hunchbacks you're worried about.

To give you an idea of what it's like, here's a scene where Julius Frankenstein, nephew of the illustrious/infamous Victor, is escaping across the English Channel in a small boat with Ada Lovelace, whose murder he is investigating. (Yes, murder. In a world of Frankenstein science, homicide victims can sometimes cooperate in tracking down their own killers.) A navy cutter spots them and opens fire, and as if that wasn't bad enough, they then attract the attention of a galloon - a lazaran-powered airship of the Fleet Air Arm - which descends to the attack:

* * *

One of Julius’s father’s favourite maxims was ‘never argue with policemen or lunatics.’ He had imbibed that from earliest years, along with ‘Do what you want—but don’t whine about the bill.’ 

So instead he stood and took aim at the galloon. 

Lieutenant Neave hadn’t been expecting that. His own shot went wild. What with the waves and it being extreme range for a mere pistol, Julius’s shot was impressive. Its bullet shattered the pilot’s windscreen—but not, as intended, his head. Lieutenant Neave was duly impressed, amongst other sentiments. 

‘What the—!’ said Mariner.

‘Stop that,’ ordered Frankenstein, meaning the slackening of speed. The authority of education and class was backed by a second, still loaded, pistol.

‘One shot: that’s all it’ll take,’ Mariner advised, meaning the closing cutter, not Frankenstein’s far lesser weapon. ‘We’ll be nothing but blood and splinters.’

Even so, he withdrew his hand from the ropes retarding their progress. Unlike the cutter’s cannon, Julius’ gun was both near at hand and near his head.

‘Since we’re all good as dead anyway,’ observed Frankenstein, ‘I can’t see that it matters.’

Mariner deferred to his logic. Having got his way in that respect, Julius returned to the galloon question. Lieutenant Neave was frantically reloading as best his confined cabin allowed. Frankenstein took the opportunity to take extra careful aim.

Neave’s nerve snapped first. ‘Up!’ His command to the crew could be heard loud and clear through the pierced screen. ‘Up—damn your undead eyes!’

Prow first, the galloon made an emergency ascension, gas valves being flung open as they came to hand, regardless of grace and stability. The lieutenant, on whom Julius was drawing bead, was flung back out of sight in the interior of the cabin.

Frankenstein could have fired anyway, but now there was a new fish to fry. The cutter roared again, and this time unmistakably in earnest. The heat of the ball as it passed not far above caressed all their faces. When they then looked up, as a natural reaction to still having heads, it was to note that most of the mast was no longer with them. Such was the force of the shot, it had not snapped or splintered but had simply been swept away in silence.

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