Wednesday! I now call together the weekly meeting of the Order of the Disgruntled Camel. Any old business? Too late, I don’t care. New business? Reading lots of books, watching movie, and surfing YouTube for steampunk, Dieselpunk and Pulp treats? Works for me.
Today we’re going to talk about The Magnetron Chronicles:
The Last Adventure of Dr. Yngve Hogalum
Spring Heeled Jack and the President’s Ring
Escape From Xanadu
High Crimes and Miscreants
Luftigel and Deppelgaenger
“The Magnetron Chronicles is a planned 12-volume series of novelette-length volumes. It is a serialized steampunk tale re-envisioning the future of generations past with all the breathless melodrama and tumult of that Victorian-era pulp fiction staple, the “penny dreadful.” The narrative harks back to the grandiose style of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, but gently satirized with a sprinkling of purposeful anachronisms, double entendres, tongue-in-cheek inventions, and droll Twainian humor. ”
Yeah, that pretty much covers the bases. There are five books out so far (Goodreads only has four on their site, and I’ve seen alleged cover art for number six, but no signs of the text itself yet), and I spent part of last week reading them. They are short (about half an hour’s reading apiece for me, though, granted, I’m a fast reader), and full of energy.
The Magnetron Chronicles are the stories of a group of daring young men who have banded together to form the Hogalum Society, devoted to serving the public good and (coincidentally, of course) satisfying their own desire for adventure. Think League of Extraordinary Gentlemen without all the literary name-dropping. Magnetron himself is an American gadget-meister and inventor, de rigeur for Steampunk stories of this kind. Dr. Leonardo Cerebelli is an American engineer and socialite. Dr. Valkusian is a Swiss student of psychology, metaphysics, and the occult. Pierce Coburn is their Action Figure, an Aussie expert on weapons and explosives. Atticus Satyros is another American, a professional stage magician, mentalist and escape artist. They were brought together and led by Dr. Yngve Baltasar Hogalum, who has died just a short time before the beginning of the first story.
Indeed, the first story is focused on Hogalum. Magnetron is obsessed with his mentor’s death, which was reported as an accident. Magnetron argues with and then defies his fellow Hogalum Society members to go ransack the corpse and take a page from Dr. Frankenstein’s adventures.
The second story picks up just days later, when the Society is hired to go in search of the lost ring of President Ulysses Grant. This leads, oddly enough, to an entanglement with Spring Heeled Jack.
The third story — You notice I’m not giving you much more than a sentence or two on each story. That’s because these goobers are short, not more than 15K words each. If I tell you much more than a sentence or two, we’re getting waaaay too deep into Spoiler Central. Now,where was I? Oh, yeah. — In the third story, we pick up just days later, as the central mystery leads our heroes to the Himalayas, and the mythical land of Xanadu, which, apparently, is an Asian Hotel California: it’s a lot easier to get in than to get out.
The fourth story carries our guys back to England, where their reputations have been destroyed by the League of Miscreants, their opposite number, if you will, a gang of naughty men led by their foe, Mr. Compost. They must clear their good names before it’s too late.
The fifth book, we delve a little deeper into Magnetron’s own history, and travel to the Continent as they finish the job they started in book four, and stop the League of Miscreants and salvage their own reputation.
Did I enjoy them? Yes. Were they without flaw? Not really. There was nothing that made me put my Kindle down, but a few times I said, “Really?!” loud enough to make my kids think it was time to up my medication.
First off, serious props to the author, D. L. Mackenzie. He has done his research in a big big way. He gets the big stuff right, which is easy enough. But he gets the little stuff right, too. Like Grant having a ring from West Point, and his record at the school, who his classmates were. And the tone is spot on perfect; you could almost believe the books were written in 1870.
That has a downside. Friendly tip: bring a dictionary. Then language can be excessively … rarified? Lots of obscure words. I have a shockingly good vocabulary for a hillbilly, and I trotted out my dictionary more than once. Part of it is just imitating the style of the period. Part of it was the characterization of Magnetron, who is the sort of person who would always use a ten syllable word where a simpler word would be easier. I can appreciate that, but there were times when it crossed over into unnecessary sesquipedalian loquaciousness. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SesquipedalianLoquaciousness
(did you see what I did there? Hee hee!)
While Goodreads says they’re supposed to re-capture the spirit of the penny dreadful, it doesn’t. Penny dreadfuls were the home of Sweeney Todd and Varney the Vampyre; dark melodrama, redolent of Grand Guignol. These stories were full of energy, true enough; but they were much too playful and light-hearted. (you want a feel for what the penny dreadful was like, check out the Showtime television series of the same name; at least one thumbs up from me). There’s nothing wrong with being playful and light-hearted. But playful and lighthearted are not words to conjure the name “penny dreadful.”
Interestingly enough, the author’s own blog (which you can find here) characterizes them as a parody of the form. That makes a little more sense, when you look at the inside jokes and anachronisms that crop up throughout the stories.
Can I give these books a standing ovation? ummm… not really. But they were fun for what they were, and I recommend them for a bit of light reading.
Okay, that’s it for today. Next up, Fun Friday! Got anything to share? Sing out, comment, share, tweet, email, smoke signals, telegram, carrier pigeon, I’m easy. Okay, I’m not easy, but I can be had, heh heh heh. And with that, I’ll see you later!