The e-book series Space 1889 & Beyond is out and I have already been lucky enough to get a review copy of Journey to the Heart of Luna and Vandals on Venus. Both are relatively quick reads, which is why I am going to review them in one go.
Journey to the Heart of Luna by Andy Frankham-Allen was quite a refreshing reading experience. The closest thing to military steampunk fiction I have thus far encountered. Military is maybe too much a term, more naval steampunk fiction. Andy manages to convey the atmosphere on a British airship en route to the Moon in a way that makes you feel you are on board. I was under the impression he had probably served with the Royal Navy himself or else just manages to conjure the right images in the reader’s mind.
The story itself is fairly predictable if you are familiar with the Space 1889 setting and the few adventures set there in the first edition of Space 1889. Since this is something I have come to expect in RPG-related literature, I do not mind at all.
Some of the characters may be a bit one-sided, especially the Russians, but since this is a short tale, character development cannot really happen. The story is also not quite free of old, stereotypical tropes, in particular the strong, independent female who is not quite in keeping with the time. However, this is one of the staple adventurer classes of Space 1889, so it is completely in keeping with the setting.
All in all, I really enjoyed Journey to the Heart of Luna, eight out of ten Zeppelins.
Now for Vandals on Venus.
Quite a different reading experience but we get to meet some of the protagonists of Journey to the Heart of Luna. It is not quite the same caliber, though. I actually stumbled over one of the first sentences:
William White woke instantly, his brilliant mind alert at once.
Well, a bit overkill, is it a sign of genius if you „wake instantly“ and are „alert at once“? There are a few more sentences like this: Quite powerful but somewhat off descriptions for characters and scenes.
And this description is odd:
Though Nathanial Stone was a brilliant inventor and spent a great deal of time bent over a desk, he had a tall, lean and athletic appearance and was in excellent health.
This implies inventors are usually not tall and athletic… Excuse me? Inventors are normally small, shrivelled and frail? Tell that one to Edison or Benz.
The clichés continue, especially when it comes to characterizing the German officer (who I think is meant to be representative of the German military as a whole, if not even the Empire):
Where to start? I can accept the stupid name, Otto Kurt: Just take two names you connect with Germany and slam them together. Then the use of „token German“. Otto Kurt uses „Verdammten Englisch“ on and for every occasion. The phrase does not make sense. It proves he is most likely an illiterate Russian spy posing as a German officer or something and getting away with it because the Venusian swamp gases have made everybody else deaf. The correct phrase would have been „Verdammte Engländer“ or „Verdammte Briten“ „Verdammten Englisch“ makes as much sense as „Damned France“ in „The damned France have beaten us at football.“ (for my US readers: soccer). Believe it or not: Google Translate would have helped (although it displays the wrong definite article, actually, I just checked). Curiously enough, according to the short story, his English is excellent.
Oberst Kurt displays none of the characteristics of a Prussian soldier, what he displays are the characteristics of a Waffen SS (Totenkopf) Sturmbannführer. Yes, I am aware these two get mixed up a lot, but the mistake has been made for the past 60 years or so. It is about time it stopped. Next time you want to portray a Prussian soldier, take into account there was more to them than just military efficiency, otherwise, this story could never have happened. And do not mix them up with Nazis, they were not.
And the German Zeppelin… Oh yes, the Rheingold. Another stereotypical German word, probably lifted from a Wagner CD. Just a few minutes in the Wikipedia would have revealed what German Zeppelins were actually named after (if they had names at all).
And best of all: Although the story focuses on the British, supposedly, it is the Americans who provide the key actions neccesary for victory.
So what old, worn out tropes do we find (you can cross-check at TV Tropes, if you like):
All Germans are Nazis? Check!
Everything sounds more evil in German? Check!
America saves the day? Check!
Vandals of Venus is not badly written. In fact, it is a fun read but it is totally predictable as soon as the villain is introduced. Right down to the humiliating defeat he will eventually suffer. Still, it is a chain of old tropes, and also shows laziness or unwillingness on part of the author to get a few basic facts right. As I said, a couple of minutes on the Wikipedia and a visit to Google Translate would have improved the story a lot.
Three out of ten Zeppelins.