The Smell of Reeves and Worcester

One of the more fun stories from The Shadow Conspiracy II was Chris Dolley‘s Wodehousian pastiche, What Ho! Automaton – which detailed the rescue of steam-powered valet Reeves by the hapless buffoon Reginald Worcester and their bonding while foiling the plans of evil aunts. Collected here, along with a new novel length story (Something Rummy this way Comes), the parody is accurate and entertaining.  And while the story is never going to change worlds, it’s still a jolly good romp.

Reeves and Worcester share the same universe as the rest of the Shadow Conspiracy collections, but abandon any of the more ominous aspects in favour of a lighter style that is more like Wodehouse fan fiction than scifi. The original short (for which the book is named) deals with our heroes’ meeting and adventures while trying to figure out what’s amiss with his cousin’s new fiancée.

The meat of the book, Something Rummy this way Comes, is a romp through the balls, debutantes, and vaguries of late-Victorian British Society.  Reggie’s aunts (who are more viscious than veloceraptors) have had enough of his caddish ways and demand he tours the ball circuit to find a wife.  Unfortunately all the available debutantes are disappearing and it’s up to Reggie (aided by the super steam brain of Reeves) to find out where to. On the way he meets spirited Emeline who, like her namesake, will chain herself to a railing in a heartbeat and tries to find the ape or eunuch he is sure is to blame.

This is such a fun book that it’s impossible to find anything wrong with it.  Yes, it is a little rough around the edges, but the voicing is pitched perfectly – to the point where I can only imagine Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry as the main characters (take note movie adaptors – start saving now).  Some nice comic touches reflect the differences between this and the world of Jeeves and Wooster (Queen Victoria’s been saved by replacing her legs with steam-driven ones) and the whole tale hangs together nicely.

Even better, it costs less than £2.  Perfect for reading at your gentlemans’ club.

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Fresh Steamed Soul

Steampunk. Ooo-kay.

An anthology. Riiiight.

A self publishing co-operative. Hmmm

Soul-transfer. Oh God no.

This could have been so bad.

This could have been worse than the worst kind of Mary-Sue fan-fiction.

Actually, Book View Café’s shared universe collection The Shadow Conspiracy II was pretty decent, if rough in places.  The usual steampunk tropes are there: Babbage’s invention of the computer two hundred years early, Lady Ada doing the science bit, zeppelins, romantic science, and lashings of adventure, and running through all the stories is the conspiracy for which the books are named. The ability to transfer the consciousness from human to steam-driven automata has been discovered and is being used by various dasterdlies for NO GOOD.

Anthologies are, by their nature, hit-and-miss affairs, but even the worst of the stories here are pretty decent, if forgettable, yarns. Standing out are Kimbriel’s Abide with Me – a tale of parental loss and hope – and Nagle’s Claire de Lune, which pits Vodon against a moustache-twirling villain.

While soul-transfer provides a pretty decent MacGuffin, there’s very little sign of any conspiracy (shadowy or otherwise) and any real future plot advancement will likely never happen.  Not to worry, it took six seasons of Lost before the audience realised it, so they should be able to push out another four volumes.

These types of work have a habit of trying to be too clever and, without a ruthless editor, usually end up being awful but Radford and Bohnhoff did a good job of keeping any amateurish edges hidden.  It’s not much more than the price of a pint, so you can do worse than picking up a copy.

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