Monday, September 23, 2013
I Can Transform You (Apex), by Maurice Broaddus
A phlegmatic gentleman by nature, some mistook Sleepy’s somnambulant Demeanor for muddle-mindedness. Given nuanced consideration, this was rather true after a fashion.
-“Pimp My Airship”
I’ve made my distrust and general dislike of sci-fi and steampunk known in the past. I’m not into the fine details of your gew-gaws and widgets so much as I am into people. I want to see unusual situations and how they affect individuals, not argue the vagaries of M theory and steam engines. Whether it be revelation or change, that’s what gets me all excited in the morning. So then I get a gander at my mail and see the next entrant in Apex’s “Apex Voices” series, containing both a science fiction and a steampunk tale. Ugh. But they’re by Maurice Broaddus and he tends to be pretty awesome with the wordings. Yay.
The bulk of the book is the eponymous novella, a riff on the buddy cop tale with doses of Gibsonish cyber-noir, political intrigue and issues of socio-economic inequality. That’s a lot to cover in a story ostensibly about a detective looking into the possible murder of his ex. It also contains “Pimp my Airship”, Maurice’s stab at an often ignored aspect of the usually idyllic steampunk worlds.
I Can Transform You fails a bit when it comes to the big picture portions of the tale. I don’t think I’m tipping too much of the man’s hand when I tell you that a conspiracy is revealed. However, the revelation of the conspiracy is a tad sloppy and choppy and a bit jumbled to make clear sense to me. It seemed thrown in too quickly and wasn’t developed as fully as my feeble little mind needed to absorb it. This disengaged me from the narrative more than I prefer.
However, on the micro level, it totally worked. I bought into Mac, the broken, disenchanted and general sour-sac asshole with a heart of coal that he is, in every way possible. He felt real to me, instead of another “bad-boy who plays by his own rules” cardboard cutout. He kept the tale grounded in his own misery and kept the narrative focused on the small, personal details. Even the end isn’t about enacting huge change so much as digging out the small piece of justice we need to keep moving.
Also, much is said about the lack of diversity in sci-fi. Hell, every alien species still seems to have a fundamentally Euro style and approach with slight pigment distinctions. But that isn’t nearly as noticeable before reading something like this, that contains such a pervading, encompassing feel of what this type of future would look like with the continually compiled baggage of race and economic relations heaped on your shoulders. I especially appreciated a version of slang that wasn’t the usual over-reaching and goofy dive for cool, instead opting for minor fluctuations on current slang. It made the whole come across much more organically.
“Pimp My Airship” may account for the first time a steampunk story has made me smile. Here, Maurice goes on the attack (quite literally) against the whitewashing of historical context that occurs in the genre. At the same time, he shows these worlds from an angle that most certainly must exist in most, if not all, of them but is consistently pushed to the background. Add to that the presence of the three types of people who seem to be a part of every revolutionary movement (the brain who actually has the knowledge and willingness to accomplish something, the voice of overwrought foolishness that everyone believes must be deep because they don’t take time to realize he is using large words to spout nonsense and the simple grunt with neither the vocabulary nor the intellect to properly voice his outrage but the determination to see it done) and you have a good time. At least, what I consider to be a good time.
Certainly, PMA was my favorite of the stories presented, even if the language was a bit too overblown for my taste (entirely intentional and a necessary part of the parody, I’m sure). The title tale could’ve used a bit more development in the grand scheme end, but I adored the character work and the bones of the narrative enough to make it worth my while. I’ve actually managed to enjoy myself in two genre’s I normally shrug at. Take that for what you will.