Mark Hodder The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (2011)
As I may have mentioned in preamble to an earlier review, I find it difficult to stir up much enthusiasm for steampunk due to its being a trend populated, so far as I am able to tell, principally by arseholes besides which 1970s Bay City Rollers fandom seems contemplative and dignified. I'm all for getting out the dressing up box from under the bed every once in a while, but it's all becoming a bit generic: brass goggles do not necessarily render one either interesting or a paragon of original thought, and the tone of a children's TV presenter imploring viewers to be lions adopted by websites helpfully explaining that steampunk is Victorian science-fiction so that even morons can join in the fun causes all right-thinking people to frown.
Sure, I could turn the other way; but I dislike stuff that is shite clogging up the cultural bandwidth and making it that much more difficult to get through to the stuff which isn't shite.
The novels of Mark Hodder, Michael Moorcock and perhaps one or two others number amongst the stuff which definitively isn't shite (and there's a book jacket blurb if ever there was), science-fiction with a nineteenth century emphasis which actually bothers to do something besides ticking boxes on the standard issue steampunk inventory.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, like its predecessor, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is an alternate historical novel reading like a ripping yarn which achieves a degree of intimacy with its subject far beyond what seems to be found in more generic efforts, dissecting class, imperialism and the ethics of society to depths one might not immediately expect from something which appears to pay homage to both Spike Milligan and The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town - unless that was just me. Rather than simply turning its historical characters into action figures, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man gets into a serious degree of biographical detail, yielding a genuinely meaty and provocative read without sacrificing either lightness of touch or the occasional pleasure of a tooth-grinding pun.
Regarding authors of this century who've done so well as to have book covers blessed with the quoted testimonials, I'm finding myself increasingly disappointed by those beautifully written inflated word counts wherein Neal Stephenson, Eric Brown, Charles Stross, or Alastair Reynolds deliver none of the wonders described by the bloke from the New York Times. Novels seem to promise so much more in 2012, a literary experience, something which won't use the wrong soup spoon or moon you from the back window of the coach with tackily airbrushed pictures of spaceships and the like. Mark Hodder establishes himself as not only leaving a paper cut some degrees above the subgenre with which he is dubiously associated, but as a damn sight more readable than most of his contemporaries in the wider field of science-fiction. The Philip K. Dick award is entirely deserved.