The best way to describe The Balero Affair by Aaron McQueen is dieselpunk meets Mission Impossible in the far future. With a lot of airships. Of various kinds.
The plot reads a bit like a Mission Impossible movie: against near-impossible odds, a small crew of heroes needs to get hold of weapons that can destroy the world as they know it from a terrorist cell. It’s fast-paced like the movies, too.
The Balero Affair might not have the most original plot, but it has good characters and a good pace. Which is excellent if you’re looking for some fun, light reading without too many twists and turns to wrap your head around. Character development is kept to a minimum, as is worldbuilding.
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One of the most compelling things about any Axis victory alternate history, when done well, is the all-consuming sense of dread that pervades the entire enterprise. How could it not be? The very conceit is the triumph of one of the most bloodthirsty, sadistic regimes this world has ever known. There is something that sends a chill down my spine when reading the details of Generalplan Ost, the plan that made the bloodshed of the war look like small pickings in comparison.
That’s the hurdle all Axis victory works need to reckon with: the sheer, unrelenting, nauseating horror that is inherent to the very premise.
Many alternate histories have done this well. I consider Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Robert Harris’ Fatherland (1992) some of the best dystopian fiction ever written, even beyond their allohistorical content. C.J. Sansom’s Dominion (2012) is a more subdued portrayal, but no less haunting for it. Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003) has a silent terror lurking in the background as a German color revolution seems to take root.
So it has been proven, quite conclusively, that this genre can be done well. Which brings us to Paul Leone’s In and Out of the Reich.
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One of my theories about Harry Turtledove is that, for all times he’s been labeled “the master of alternate history,” he never had the most enthusiasm for the genre.
It goes like this: Turtledove wanted to write Byzantine/Eastern Roman-themed fantasy, but after The Guns of the South (1992), alternate history became the money-making niche that he was stuck in. Turtledove would be neither the first nor last writer to have their most successful fiction be considerably different from the type they actually wanted to write.
Or maybe he did have enthusiasm for the genre but didn’t have the mindset needed to really take advantage of it. Or maybe the nature of alternate history and needing to appeal to a generalist audience who doesn’t have the most knowledge of history forced him into a corner.
Whatever the reason, The Man with the Iron Heart symbolizes the weaknesses of his style vividly.
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Next in our Fashion History series of catalogue book reviews is not one but two books, covering the Jazz Age.
First up: Sears of the late steam and early diesel eras, during which fashion evolved from late Edwardian and Art Nouveau era into flapper styles and Art Deco.
It’s pretty amazing to see how these styles evolved fairly rapidly and then stuck to that typical 1920s silhouette for quite some time.
This book gives you a wide perspective of the evolution into typical Jazz Age fashions, which is great if you want a nuanced look at the sartorial evolution or an era-specific outfit.
The book contains styles for different body types (although not as many as it should, in my opinion) as well as a variety of children’s, women’s and men’s clothing.
Continue reading “Everyday Fashions, 1909-1920s”
As the title suggests, this catalogue book is all about hats. Collecting hat ads from the 1900s to the 1970s, it is a marvelous display of the evolution of headwear through the years.
Sadly, as is too often the case with books like these, all pages are in black and white, denying us the color stories behind the designs.
Even in grayscale, the book is pretty amazing if you’re into hats and want to know more which piece was appropriate for which period.
Continue reading “Decades of Hats”
Much like he entered the steamboat business at the dawn of the railway era in The Master of the Mississippi (annotations here), Scrooge seeks his fortune in the American West when it was scarcely “Wild” anymore in The Buckaroo of the Badlands (1992). At age 15, Scrooge is employed by Murdo MacKenzie, the Scottish-born Montana cattle baron, and meets the later president Theodore Roosevelt (although he doesn’t know it yet).
Keno Don Rosa skillfully integrates the tidbits about Scrooge’s cowboy days Carl Barks had revealed over the years, starting with “Only a Poor Old Man,” published in the very first issue of Uncle Scrooge (1952), in which the then richest duck in the world tells Huey, Dewey and Louie he made his fortune “on the seas, and in the mines, and in the cattle wars of the old frontier.”
Continue reading “The Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Buckaroo of the Badlands”
In my review of Patterns of Fashion 2, I mentioned that there are alternatives to that work. This is one of them. Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns (1999) has all the garments a lady living in Victorian-era America was supposed to own. Plenty are geared toward the upper-class woman, but the books contains patterns for a variety of outfits.
All the patterns are reproductions from a dressmaker’s journal called The Voice of Fashion. (Of which this is not the only reproduction, but I digress.)
Personally, I find these patterns much easier to work with than those in Patterns of Fashion 2. Not only are we provided with a short introduction shedding light onto the cost of an American lady’s wardrobe, and what should be in it according to polite society at the time; the methods needed to turn these patterns into a garment that fits your body are pretty well explained.
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Cassandra Kelly’s debut novel, The Green Wave, is a most enjoyable one, taking us on a wild adventure with Rosalyn Flynn, Reverend to the Enlightenment Church and airship pilot, from Canterbury to Sydney and far beyond. Along with a cast of characters that are well fleshed-out and equally interesting as the Reverend herself.
Even though the backstories of the characters are kept to a minimum, we are given ample information about them not to be left with tons of questions. Action scenes are descriptive, but short enough to keep you from becoming bored with detail. The author has definitely found that fine line between going in-depth and being overly descriptive.
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To those who habitually sew historical garments, the Patterns of Fashion series is probably nothing new. To those who don’t: Patterns of Fashions is a series often referred to by costubers, especially those working recreating garments from the past century and before.
Do they live up to the hype?
Continue reading “Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction c. 1860-1940”
Fatale is widely regarded as one of the top-ten horror comics available. Surely, this little noir gem by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is making good on that promise with their almost surreal detective story.
Book 1: Death Chases Me introduces us to the contemporary leads, but the real star of the story is Josephine. A woman looking like the clichéd femme fatale, but with a dark secret. Immortal and forever beautiful, her strange magic affects men and what seems to be a Lovecraftian cult behind her.
That may sound a little much and bizarre, but the way the story unfolds, with flashbacks to the 1950s mixed in with current events, really works.
Continue reading “Fatale, Book 1: Death Chases Me”