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Book Review

Book Cover



Author: James P. Blaylock
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $12.95, Cdn $15.95
ISBN: 978 0 85768 982 5
Available 22 February 2013

Across the skies of London a dirigible floats, manned by a dead pilot, tied to the steering. This is not the only mystery which is engaging scientist/adventurer, Langdon St. Ives. He is presently on a quest to find a box which has been bequeathed by Jack Owlesby’s father, containing a gem. However, there are a number of boxes each containing strange and exotic objects. Dr. Ignacio Narbondo is not far away working on a plan, which also involves the mysterious dead pilot, who may be the remains of a dead alien pilot...

Homunculus (1986) was the second in James P. Blaylock’s series of steampunk novels. Steampunk, as a genre, has grown and defined itself since the original publication of this book. Modern audiences may only view this book as a peripheral work, but this would be wrong as Blaylock’s work helped define the genre in the first place, without which we may not have seen projects like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen come to fruition and find the level of success it did.

The story is quintessentially an absurdist’s semi surreal romp through the imagination of Blaylock. Certainly this is the best written of the three reprints of his early work and won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1988. The book has erroneously been called comic, though as far as being funny it would be best to say that it is amusingly humorous. The comedic element comes from the juxtaposition of either differing images or the uncharacteristic reaction that the protagonists have to what they experience.

The world is full of the sort of grotesques which are normally found in dime store novels, though here they function as another element in a richly populated world. Hunchbacks, drunks and aliens rub shoulders in nineteenth century London. As a Londoner, I was surprised how detailed and accurate Blaylock’s descriptions of the city are, considering he is an American author.

Like many of his other early books, this is a romp and should be considered as such. So, the level of characterisation isn’t as deep as it could be, nor are there any great leap forwards in the characters development. The good guys are good and the bad guys stay this side of pantomime villain.

That said, this is an easy, fun read, with a convoluted plot which will keep you entertained throughout.


Charles Packer

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