Almost exactly a month ago, I ran a post over at Amazing Stories Magazine about Steam Punk and its merit as literature/ as a form of escapism. As mentioned in that post (here) the book that really started me digging into this genre was Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Aurorarama. Without delving any further into the arguments presented there, I’d like to discuss the work on its own. To try (if at all possible) to separate the conclusions I made in that previous post, and form new ones solely based on the merit of the work. We’ll see what happens!
I think it will be easiest to divide the post into things I liked about the book, and those things which weren’t so hot.
- The first (negative) thing that stood out to me about the novel was the fact that it felt like I was reading a sequel. Yup, definitely got the impression that all of the key events that set this plot in motion, had already happened. Also, Aurorarama carried on in such a way that there was no time to go back and explain. I’ve read many other reviewers who felt the same way. I’ve checked, and checked again, and as far as I can tell, this is the first story in the series. I know there is another New Venice book out. I’m curious as to whether it will read like a third book, perhaps it will fill in those missing details, or maybe it will take us further back much in the style of a prequel. Perhaps it will take us somewhere completely out of the spectrum that we’re used to. It will certainly be interesting to find out.
- Perhaps the bullet above clues in to this but, Aurorarama is an almost needlessly obscure text. The suspense and mystery are held intact by the use of seemingly random plot points which the reader expects will eventually tie in to one another once we are given the ‘big reveal’. After finishing the book, I’m going on good faith in the author, that it all made sense. Honestly, without reading it a second or even third time, I’m not sure which parts were actually critical to the plot and which were just there to give you background into the world of New Venice. And as for having background into New Venice, all that you’re given doesn’t seem to be nearly enough as Valtat will just mention bits of history without really explaining what they are. Again, you just take it on faith.
Given all that I just said against this wonderful novel, there is still much to be said in its favor. I’ll try to do so presently.
- Valtat is a true world builder. He takes what is almost literally a blank slate (or perhaps more accurately an empty white board), the Arctic, and gives it an exceeding amount of meaning an nuance. I was originally intrigued by the premise of this book but I also was left clueless as to what to expect. I mean, really how interesting can the Arctic be? Apparently, it can be extremely interesting. Also, air ships. So that’s awesome.
- I also found D’Allier’s character to be both extremely interesting and quite frustrating. I’ve noticed this in other stories I’ve read which feature drug addicts as main characters. Perhaps that is part of their allure. They almost never make ‘good decisions’ or the ‘right choice’ but it also seems like they don’t suffer the consequences as fully as other characters might. It also seems that events of seemingly little importance are paramount to them, while things which would traumatize a normal individual, are easily taken in stride. It is like these individuals are existing on another plane from us mortals, even when they’re not high.
- Finally, I really enjoyed the dream sequences and shamanism present through out the novel. It seemed to be (very naturally) at odds with the seemingly industrious attitude present within New Venice (and greater Steam Punk as a genre). But also very ‘in tune’ with all of the underpinnings of the society. Somehow, it seemed both protagonist and antagonist within the story.
Well, these are just some of the things I noticed on my first run through. I’ll probably read this one again if I manage to find the time. Perhaps after I give the ‘sequel’ Luminous Chaos a read as well. It appears that novel takes place after the events of Aurorarama but because of time travel, also before (I can see things are not going to be any easier this next time haha). Give this one a read and post some comments below . . . if you dare.