Sunday, May 17, 2009

New this Month: Worldshaker by Richard Harland

In an alternative universe, Worldshaker (Allen and Unwin) is one of a number of “juggernauts” which fly around the world with permanent residents. Due to something that happened in the mid-19th century, the timeline diverged from ours into a world in which the Victorian era never really ended. In the early 21st century, Queen Victoria the Third reigns aboard the flying ship Worldshaker, with her consort who changed his name to Albert when they married.

Class distinctions are strictly observed aboard Worldshaker. Col Porpentine and his family are aristocrats and hereditary Supreme Commanders of the ship. Below them are those who are merely rich from trade and below all of them are the “Filthies” who are kept in slavery below decks, doing the work that keeps the ship running. Some of them are hauled up like fish on a line to be turned into Menials, servants to the upper classes -- and as Menials are always obedient and utterly silent, there is the strong possibility that they have been modified.

One night, Col wakes up to find a Filthy in his room. Her name is Riff and she is not keen to be turned into a Menial. Somehow, Col finds himself involved in Riff’s troubles and as a result, having major troubles of his own. Nobody has ever told him or his fellow upper decks what is going on in their society or how it got started. Now he must decide what he is going to do about it -- and learn some nasty home truths about members of his own family.

I’ve always enjoyed steam punk -- science fiction centred around the Victorian era -- and this is a very good example of the genre. Despite the serious elements, it has plenty of the dark, often over-the-top humour typical of this author. The characters are also humorously over-the-top, and it works well.

I am told Worldshaker has already been bought for the North American market. If you live there, be patient. It will be well worth the wait.

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