Best Steampunk Stories: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Author: Cherie Priest
Release: April 2010
Genre: Steampunk Science Fiction
If you have wanted to explore steampunk, that new alternative world science fiction sub-genre, this is the book you’ve been waiting for as an introduction. The concept for most steampunk is that in an alternative world steam engines became the major form of energy instead of our own history of the development of electricity. It is a world filled with marvelous contraptions and gutsy folks who invent and run them. Boneshaker is a gem of an example of the best of this new breed of sci-fi.
In an alternate version of the 1880s the civil war is still raging, and Seattle is a town that has had a devastating accident that almost destroyed it. Leviticus Blue, a mad inventor, creates a machine that tunnels beneath the city. In the process he accidentally releases a deadly gas from the bowels of the earth that turns people into strange beings called “rotters”, another word for zombies. He is never seen again. A wall is erected to keep the zombies and the deadly gas within the city confines, and a new city is just beginning to evolve, one that struggles to survive at all, on the outskirts of the wall. It is here the story begins.
We follow the struggles of Zeke, Leviticus’s son, who is determined to clear his father’s name. When he goes into the deadly city to find clues that would exonerate his father of blame, his mother Briar knows she must go into the city after him. It is both the determination of a mother and the guilt of a secret untold that motivate her and in the end those are the strengths that help her to succeed. But it is the journey, told from both Zeke’s point of view as well as Briar’s that really flesh out for the reader both the world they now live in, and how it got to be that way.
The true strength of this story is not the machines, but the characters in it. Not only Briar and Zeke, as is to be expected, but also the strange and twisted people who have found a way to survive in a city filled with meandering mobs of zombies, deadly gas that can kill you in an instant and warring tribes of underground survivors. One group is led by a mysterious Dr. Minnericht while the other is a band of plucky and resourceful pirates and assorted riff-raff from the edges of the old Seattle life. As the story unwinds in the bowels of Seattle, the question of just who Dr. Minnericht really is and what he wants with Zeke become a turning point in Briar’s search for her missing son.
With the introduction of Boneshaker steampunk author Cherie Priest kicks off her highly successful series, all set in this alternate world just before the turn of the twentieth century. It is a world so well realized that it has won Priest accolades from such places as Publisher’s Weekly and throughout science fiction fandom. Even better, if like me you have come to love this world and its colourful characters, lucky for us there are several follow up novels. But this is the one that started it all for Priest and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves science fiction, steampunk or just great writing.