Bartleby and James, by Michael Coorlim (40:00)

IOD-BartlebyAndJamesToday we see that even a really engaging story can be tarnished by an insufficiency of conflict.

What I gleaned about the story: A brilliant inventor in the age of steam partners with a smooth-talking intuitionist, inventing contraptions and solving crimes. You know, like Sherlock Holmes and Nikola Tesla.

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WTF #1: Anachronistic language

Analysis: Many readers will skip right past it, but being a mathematician and a computer scientist by training, I have a problem with a Victorian character referring to something as being “fractal in nature.” The problem is that, while the nascent threads of chaos theory and the mathematical concept of self-symmetry had been whispered in the rarefied circles of mathematics by that time, the actual word “fractal” was not coined until 1975. To my ear, it stands out as sharply as others might hear an Elizabethan narrator referring to “texting.”

Kudos #1: Engaging prose

Details: Every now and again I come across a little gem of cadence and imagery. It’s not grand descriptions and soaring speeches that caught my eye, but rather, the poetry I’m finding in otherwise common prose. Like this description of a rather acrobatic assassin that has been feeding the rumor mill of London lately: “She’s news. She’s scandal. She’s morbid entertainment for peerage and hoi polloi alike, a penny dreadful come to wicked life.”

WTF #2: It’s too easy

Analysis: There’s a frustrating lack of resistance opposing the protagonists. Things fall a little too neatly into place. For example, they’re searching for an unknown miscreant and they have an idea for how they might learn more about his identity. Their first idea hits pay dirt, yielding three names that might prove to be our guy. They pick the most likely of the three and check him out. Pay dirt again. He’s their man. Sigh. In order for a plot-driven story to be satisfying, the characters must experience meaningful opposition, explore blind alleys and suffer defeat at regular stages along the way.

Addendum: Having a read a bit further, I’m afraid the lack of meaningful opposition is a trend that continues. Having said that though, the prose is good, the world is inventive, and the situations lead the reader on an enjoyable tour of that world. So if you don’t mind a frisson of Gary Stu in your steampunk soup, you might want to check this out.

Winds of Aerathiea, by T.E. Adams (10:21)
Let the Water Rise and Other Stories, by Matthew Burgos (1:25)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is uniquely unqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.