In an alternate 1914, Darwinists have perfected genetic engineering, and Clankers have sophisticated mecha. England’s Leviathan is a giant flying jellyfish that is both a complete self-contained ecosystem and a warship. One of its middies is Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy so she can serve. Alek, a prince from Clanker Austria, has been piloting mechs since he was a child, but when he has to flee after his parents are assassinated, he’s completely discombobulated by the flechette bats, messenger lizards, and other native fauna of the Leviathan.

In Behemoth, the Leviathan comes to cosmopolitan, multicultural Istanbul, where mech technology is nearly as cool as the biotech of the Darwinists: ghettoes guarded by iron golems, an immense ornate statue that mimics the movements of the sultan seated beneath, and mechanical elephants!

Alek, Deryn, and the crew of the Leviathan become entangled in politics: England has refused to turn over a warship and its accompanying bioengineered behemoth which the Ottoman Empire already paid for, Germany is maneuvering to be the power that pulls Istanbul’s strings, and a number of factions within Istanbul are jockeying for power or plotting revolution. It looks like a world war is about to begin. In the middle of all this, Dr. Barlow’s mysterious eggs hatch, Alek and Deryn have several hilarious conversations in which Alek fails to discern the existence of subtext, Deryn has an underwater mission, and several cool revolutionaries are introduced. Also, there is a taxi chase, a foreign correspondent with a recording bullfrog, and a Tesla cannon, not to mention the kitchen sink.

It’s all a great deal of fun, and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. If you liked book one, you will probably like this; if you were bit underwhelmed by book one, this is a significant improvement. Westerfeld does a particularly nice twist on the old “girl disguised as a boy likes boy, boy doesn’t realize his buddy is a girl and disses girls to her, beautiful second girl shows up for added complications.”

No major plot spoilers, but relationship spoilers for the love triangle.

Spoilers are beautifully illustrated )

Leviathan

Behemoth (Leviathan)
In an alternate 1914, Darwinists have perfected genetic engineering, and Clankers have sophisticated mecha. England’s Leviathan is a giant flying jellyfish that is both a complete self-contained ecosystem and a warship. One of its middies is Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy so she can serve. Alek, a prince from Clanker Austria, has been piloting mechs since he was a child, but when he has to flee after his parents are assassinated, he’s completely discombobulated by the flechette bats, messenger lizards, and other native fauna of the Leviathan.

In Behemoth, the Leviathan comes to cosmopolitan, multicultural Istanbul, where mech technology is nearly as cool as the biotech of the Darwinists: ghettoes guarded by iron golems, an immense ornate statue that mimics the movements of the sultan seated beneath, and mechanical elephants!

Alek, Deryn, and the crew of the Leviathan become entangled in politics: England has refused to turn over a warship and its accompanying bioengineered behemoth which the Ottoman Empire already paid for, Germany is maneuvering to be the power that pulls Istanbul’s strings, and a number of factions within Istanbul are jockeying for power or plotting revolution. It looks like a world war is about to begin. In the middle of all this, Dr. Barlow’s mysterious eggs hatch, Alek and Deryn have several hilarious conversations in which Alek fails to discern the existence of subtext, Deryn has an underwater mission, and several cool revolutionaries are introduced. Also, there is a taxi chase, a foreign correspondent with a recording bullfrog, and a Tesla cannon, not to mention the kitchen sink.

It’s all a great deal of fun, and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. If you liked book one, you will probably like this; if you were bit underwhelmed by book one, this is a significant improvement. Westerfeld does a particularly nice twist on the old “girl disguised as a boy likes boy, boy doesn’t realize his buddy is a girl and disses girls to her, beautiful second girl shows up for added complications.”

No major plot spoilers, but relationship spoilers for the love triangle.

Spoilers are beautifully illustrated )

Leviathan

Behemoth (Leviathan)
An illustrated and gorgeously designed steampunk WWI AU adventure with mecha and biotech, plus Scott’s patented plausible alt-slang. He usually writes YA and the main characters are in their mid-teens but the emotional texture of this one felt pre-pubescent to me.

In this world, Charles Darwin discovered DNA and how to genetically manipulate and create extraordinary creatures, from living airships which are an ecosystem in themselves to message-repeating lizards. Other nations, possibly for religious reasons though the book doesn't get into any detail on this, went in the traditional steam direction and developed mecha. Despite this, history continued similarly enough to our timestream that two generations later, WWI is about to fought with pretty much the same participants but with mecha and mutant war-creatures.

If the total implausibility of this set-up is a dealbreaker, this book is not for you. I am much more of a “but does it make sense within the book’s own framework” reader, and even I boggled. That being said, the biotech world of the Darwinists is awesome, and the viewpoint character from the Darwinist side, a girl who had disguised herself as a boy to get a job on a military leviathan, is pretty fun.

The steampunk Clankers are less interesting inherently – basic walking and flying mecha, which sadly don’t make the pilots insane or predict the future – and its viewpoint character, the teenage son of the assassinated Archduke, is a squick boring until he meets the main girl character halfway through. The story as a whole picks up a lot at that point.

This isn’t one of my favorites of Westerfeld’s books – it’s pitched a bit young and I prefer his contemporary or future voices and settings - but I have enough curiosity about the mysterious eggs carried by Darwin’s granddaughter that I’ll check out the next one. The obvious answer is dragons, but that makes me think it won’t be dragons.

Leviathan (Leviathan (Quality))
It was coincidental that I read these two books in succession, but they turned out to make a good paired reading as fantasies of ecology which deal with how altered humans fit into a changing environment.

Peeps, which will be available in August, is one of the more well-worked out rationalized vampire books I've read. (My other favorites in the genre are George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream and Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling with the Dead.)

Nineteen-year-old Cal comes to New York City from Texas, has a one-night stand with a gothy-looking woman, develops superhuman strength, agility, and the ability to see in the dark... and then finds, to his horror, that all the women he has sex with after that turn into insane cannibals. The top-secret city agency that deals with problems like this contacts him and explains that he's a peep, or "parasite-positive." Vampirism, you see, is caused by a parasite which is transmitted sexually or even through kissing, and while a few lucky people make a good adjustment to it, most go nuts, hate everything they used to love, and end up living in sewers and sucking rat blood. Cal is recruited into the agency and sent to track down his vampirized exes... and the woman who gave the parasite to him.

His narrative is interspersed with absolutely disgusting accounts of real-life parasites, some of which grossed me out so much that I had to skim them. There is, however, a point to those interludes, and if you can read even enough of them to get the gist of how those real parasites work, it will make Peeps that much more rich and compelling. Though Cal's parasite tries to spread itself by making him constantly horny but he's unable to so much as kiss for fear of infecting his partner, this is is a notably non-angsty vampire book. Though I didn't find the characters quite as compelling as I did in Midnighters, Peeps isn't so much about Cal, his frustratingly attractive female ally, and a whole bunch of peeps as it is about the natural world, how humans relate to it, and the question of how much of our behavior, thoughts, and personality is some intangible "us," and how much is dictated by biological processes... or even the occasional parasite. Peeps has a light, brisk, casual tone and is often quite funny, but it's also got quite a lot to say-- little of which is trite or obvious, and none of which is preachy.

Ruth Park is the author of one of my all-time favorite timeslip novels, Playing Beatie Bow, in which an Australian girl is transported back to Victorian times. It's wonderful, and none of her other books that I've read have lived up to it. My Sister Sif is about fourteen-year-old Erika and her wispy older sister Sif, who are the product of a marriage between an Australian man and a Polynesian woman. When their father dies, they are sent away from their island paradise to Australia, where Sif is made unhealthy and miserable by the pressures of modern life. So they return to the island, where it turns out that they're merpeople (sort of-- the exact nature of the merfolk is Park's most original invention) and would live happily ever after, except that the oceans are polluted and the saintly whales and loving dolphins are dying and the merpeople are going to have to flee to some corner of the world where the chemicals won't kill them. Erika isn't merperson enough to survive the journey, but Sif is torn for a different reason: she's in love with a perfectly wonderful human man, Henry.

I had two problems with this book, but in a sense they're the same problem: the utterly marvelous Henry and the too-good-for-this-cruel-world Sif annoyed the hell out me, as did the wise, peaceful, spiritual whales and dolphins; and though I agree that pollution and environmental destruction are bad, I still felt preached at.

In Park's world-view, nature is good and benevolent and peaceful, children are instinctively good and wise and unselfish until society teaches them to be selfish and cruel, and ecosystems just exist until humans start destroying them. In Westerfeld's, nature can be both amazing and horrifying (frequently at the same time), humans are part of the ecosystem, those ecosytems have incredibly complex means of self-regulating that may be destroyed by human interference-- including the well-intentioned kind-- and if you look closely at any ecology, you will find that it's basically things eating each other, often in really icky ways. Having grown up in a rural part of India, I lean more toward Westerfeld's view on nature. But apart from that, Westerfeld also wrote the better book.
It was coincidental that I read these two books in succession, but they turned out to make a good paired reading as fantasies of ecology which deal with how altered humans fit into a changing environment.

Peeps, which will be available in August, is one of the more well-worked out rationalized vampire books I've read. (My other favorites in the genre are George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream and Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling with the Dead.)

Nineteen-year-old Cal comes to New York City from Texas, has a one-night stand with a gothy-looking woman, develops superhuman strength, agility, and the ability to see in the dark... and then finds, to his horror, that all the women he has sex with after that turn into insane cannibals. The top-secret city agency that deals with problems like this contacts him and explains that he's a peep, or "parasite-positive." Vampirism, you see, is caused by a parasite which is transmitted sexually or even through kissing, and while a few lucky people make a good adjustment to it, most go nuts, hate everything they used to love, and end up living in sewers and sucking rat blood. Cal is recruited into the agency and sent to track down his vampirized exes... and the woman who gave the parasite to him.

His narrative is interspersed with absolutely disgusting accounts of real-life parasites, some of which grossed me out so much that I had to skim them. There is, however, a point to those interludes, and if you can read even enough of them to get the gist of how those real parasites work, it will make Peeps that much more rich and compelling. Though Cal's parasite tries to spread itself by making him constantly horny but he's unable to so much as kiss for fear of infecting his partner, this is is a notably non-angsty vampire book. Though I didn't find the characters quite as compelling as I did in Midnighters, Peeps isn't so much about Cal, his frustratingly attractive female ally, and a whole bunch of peeps as it is about the natural world, how humans relate to it, and the question of how much of our behavior, thoughts, and personality is some intangible "us," and how much is dictated by biological processes... or even the occasional parasite. Peeps has a light, brisk, casual tone and is often quite funny, but it's also got quite a lot to say-- little of which is trite or obvious, and none of which is preachy.

Ruth Park is the author of one of my all-time favorite timeslip novels, Playing Beatie Bow, in which an Australian girl is transported back to Victorian times. It's wonderful, and none of her other books that I've read have lived up to it. My Sister Sif is about fourteen-year-old Erika and her wispy older sister Sif, who are the product of a marriage between an Australian man and a Polynesian woman. When their father dies, they are sent away from their island paradise to Australia, where Sif is made unhealthy and miserable by the pressures of modern life. So they return to the island, where it turns out that they're merpeople (sort of-- the exact nature of the merfolk is Park's most original invention) and would live happily ever after, except that the oceans are polluted and the saintly whales and loving dolphins are dying and the merpeople are going to have to flee to some corner of the world where the chemicals won't kill them. Erika isn't merperson enough to survive the journey, but Sif is torn for a different reason: she's in love with a perfectly wonderful human man, Henry.

I had two problems with this book, but in a sense they're the same problem: the utterly marvelous Henry and the too-good-for-this-cruel-world Sif annoyed the hell out me, as did the wise, peaceful, spiritual whales and dolphins; and though I agree that pollution and environmental destruction are bad, I still felt preached at.

In Park's world-view, nature is good and benevolent and peaceful, children are instinctively good and wise and unselfish until society teaches them to be selfish and cruel, and ecosystems just exist until humans start destroying them. In Westerfeld's, nature can be both amazing and horrifying (frequently at the same time), humans are part of the ecosystem, those ecosytems have incredibly complex means of self-regulating that may be destroyed by human interference-- including the well-intentioned kind-- and if you look closely at any ecology, you will find that it's basically things eating each other, often in really icky ways. Having grown up in a rural India, I lean more toward Westerfeld's view on nature. But apart from that, Westerfeld also wrote the better book.
There is a secret hour between midnight and one am. Time stops, raindrops freeze in mid-air, a black moon rises, and the only things stirring are the midnighters-- the very few people who were born at that exact moment-- and the darklings. You don't want to mess with the darklings. You might not want to mess with the midnighters either, as they all have special powers and some of them are interestingly screwed up as a result.

As teenage Jessica Day discovers when she moves to Bixby, Oklahoma, the secret hour can only be accessed from a very few places in the world, and Bixby is one of those few places where she can claim her power as a midnighter. She promptly gets entangled in a complex web of relationships between the town's other four midnighters: free spirit Jonathan, tortured soul Melissa, scholarly Rex, and mathematician Dess. I don't want to give too much away here, since half the fun is learning how the world works and the the secrets of the characters' lives, but I will say that Dess is my favorite. The darklings, humanity's ancient shapeshifting predators, can be fought with steel and thirteen-letter-words (it's a long story), and Dess builds and names the midnighters' weapons: hubcaps and crowbars and flashlights with names like Resplendently Scintillating Illustrations.

The ideas here are not new, but they're combined in new ways, so the effect is of rediscovering an old favorite: as if you're ten again and reading Danny Dunn, or sixteen and dashing home with the latest issue of X-Men.

This is a tremendously entertaining trilogy whose third volume I am awaiting with a "And then what happens" fervor surpassed only by the one with which I wait for George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows. Midnighters isn't especially deep, the images are generally better than the prose, and there are a couple of plot oddities which may or may not be ironed out in the third volume, but they have great narrative drive and provided me with the most pure sf-y fun I've had in quite some time.

Volume one is out in paperback and two in hardcover. I had already bought two before I read one, because the author was signing and it was the only one of his books that was available that I didn't already own. Normally I don't like to buy a second volume, especially in hardcover, until I know I like the first, but not since reading Dorothy Dunnett in Japan have I been so glad I had the next volume on hand. If this sounds at all like the kind of thing you might enjoy... go get 'em.

Midnighters #1: The Secret Hour

http://www.scottwesterfeld.com/
There is a secret hour between midnight and one am. Time stops, raindrops freeze in mid-air, a black moon rises, and the only things stirring are the midnighters-- the very few people who were born at that exact moment-- and the darklings. You don't want to mess with the darklings. You might not want to mess with the midnighters either, as they all have special powers and some of them are interestingly screwed up as a result.

As teenage Jessica Day discovers when she moves to Bixby, Oklahoma, the secret hour can only be accessed from a very few places in the world, and Bixby is one of those few places where she can claim her power as a midnighter. She promptly gets entangled in a complex web of relationships between the town's other four midnighters: free spirit Jonathan, tortured soul Melissa, scholarly Rex, and mathematician Dess. I don't want to give too much away here, since half the fun is learning how the world works and the the secrets of the characters' lives, but I will say that Dess is my favorite. The darklings, humanity's ancient shapeshifting predators, can be fought with steel and thirteen-letter-words (it's a long story), and Dess builds and names the midnighters' weapons: hubcaps and crowbars and flashlights with names like Resplendently Scintillating Illustrations.

The ideas here are not new, but they're combined in new ways, so the effect is of rediscovering an old favorite: as if you're ten again and reading Danny Dunn, or sixteen and dashing home with the latest issue of X-Men.

This is a tremendously entertaining trilogy whose third volume I am awaiting with a "And then what happens" fervor surpassed only by the one with which I wait for George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows. Midnighters isn't especially deep, the images are generally better than the prose, and there are a couple of plot oddities which may or may not be ironed out in the third volume, but they have great narrative drive and provided me with the most pure sf-y fun I've had in quite some time.

Volume one is out in paperback and two in hardcover. I had already bought two before I read one, because the author was signing and it was the only one of his books that was available that I didn't already own. Normally I don't like to buy a second volume, especially in hardcover, until I know I like the first, but not since reading Dorothy Dunnett in Japan have I been so glad I had the next volume on hand. If this sounds at all like the kind of thing you might enjoy... go get 'em.

http://www.scottwesterfeld.com/
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