Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann ($13.99)

The Affinity Bridge is Steed and Emma Peel meet steampunk, with entertaining consequences … and only a few annoyances.

What is "steampunk," you ask? If the industrial revolution in the late 1800s and early 1900s went strangely awry that would be steampunk. Take our modern machines that are powered for us by tiny batteries or gas engines or run via chip processors, and imagine that they are activated instead by many mighty gears and that steam pours out of their orifices. Steampunk takes a time that was, in this case the early 1900s, and gives it a never-was technology that clunks and clanks and a culture that's on the verge of change. It's speculative fiction with H. G. Wells as its granddaddy.

Steed and Emma Peel are, of course, the iconic "Avengers" from 1960s British television. They married style and outlandish spy-ish stories, and saved the Empire over and over again in a sophisticated and way-cool manner. In this case, our heroes are Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes. As an agent of the Crown, Sir Maurice accepts impossible assignments and makes it work. He has just hired an assistant, the tough-but-tender, coolly intelligent Veronica Hobbes.

Zombies are overrunning Britain. Robots (or "automata") are insinuating themselves into polite society. A dirigible ("airship") has crashed. Sir Maurice's secretary's brother has disappeared. Solve these problems. Go.

George Mann gives us a largely entertaining, galloping story, despite when it sometimes degenerates into cartoonish play.

Sometimes the "little touches" fall by the wayside, however. For instance, when an assailant attacks Sir Maurice, it is implied that his guard (whom the author has endowed with a name – Watkins – instead of just an anonymous status) is knifed. We never find out if he is dead or just injured; Sir M never searches for him. It's a small point, but it is never answered and it bugs me.

Also, this zombie thing. A virus has turned people into zombies. Their flesh rots, they don't feel pain, it is hard to subdue them. And they infect people by biting them, making more zombies. Apparently the British have been living with this inconvenience for quite some time. The following is for real: A Canadian graduate student, Philip Munz, used zombification as an entertaining way to present the paradigm of the spread of infectious diseases. In a city of a million people, within "7 to 10 days, everyone was either dead or undead," he concluded. If I were a non-dead, non-zombified person in Mann's story, I'd be saying, "Hallelujah, it's a miracle!"

Why can I accept robots without a blink but not zombies? Why do I not think twice when Sir Maurice is subjected to enough pummeling to kill three men while suffering only a modicum of discomfort but cavil when Watkins is ignored? Got me.

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