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Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy

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It all began when the Brown Leather Man, a mysterious being with a secret older than humankind, asked proper Victorian London gentleman George Dower to repair a weird device. How could George have known that this was but one of the many infernal devices his genius father had built, and that he himself would soon be pursued by former clients of his father? For George had al It all began when the Brown Leather Man, a mysterious being with a secret older than humankind, asked proper Victorian London gentleman George Dower to repair a weird device. How could George have known that this was but one of the many infernal devices his genius father had built, and that he himself would soon be pursued by former clients of his father? For George had always been the unsuspecting key to his father's incredible plans, a key that others would like to possess - from the automaton who wore George's own face to the mad Lord Bendray, bent on using George to destroy the entire Earth. A romp through Victorian England by an author said to have "the brain-burned intensity of his mentor, Philip K. Dick." "This is the real thing - a mad inventor, curious coins, murky London alleys and windblown Scottish Isles ...a wild and extravagant plot that turns up new mysteries with each succeeding page." - James P Blaylock


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It all began when the Brown Leather Man, a mysterious being with a secret older than humankind, asked proper Victorian London gentleman George Dower to repair a weird device. How could George have known that this was but one of the many infernal devices his genius father had built, and that he himself would soon be pursued by former clients of his father? For George had al It all began when the Brown Leather Man, a mysterious being with a secret older than humankind, asked proper Victorian London gentleman George Dower to repair a weird device. How could George have known that this was but one of the many infernal devices his genius father had built, and that he himself would soon be pursued by former clients of his father? For George had always been the unsuspecting key to his father's incredible plans, a key that others would like to possess - from the automaton who wore George's own face to the mad Lord Bendray, bent on using George to destroy the entire Earth. A romp through Victorian England by an author said to have "the brain-burned intensity of his mentor, Philip K. Dick." "This is the real thing - a mad inventor, curious coins, murky London alleys and windblown Scottish Isles ...a wild and extravagant plot that turns up new mysteries with each succeeding page." - James P Blaylock

30 review for Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy

  1. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    Steampunk, ahoy! And hey, did you know that Jeter coined that term? Remember when those fantastic adventure tales whose main goal was to tell a fast-paced story with some interesting ideas used to clock in under 250 pages and could be enjoyed in one long afternoon? And didn't have sequels? Probably not and I'm probably dating myself. It is nice to be reminded that such things were once fairly common. Maybe authors these days are afraid of being seen as somehow disposable or too lightweight. And w Steampunk, ahoy! And hey, did you know that Jeter coined that term? Remember when those fantastic adventure tales whose main goal was to tell a fast-paced story with some interesting ideas used to clock in under 250 pages and could be enjoyed in one long afternoon? And didn't have sequels? Probably not and I'm probably dating myself. It is nice to be reminded that such things were once fairly common. Maybe authors these days are afraid of being seen as somehow disposable or too lightweight. And what's wrong with being lightweight? Infernal Devices is a great example of swiftly-paced, lightweight entertainment. It is a retro-chic thriller full of tricky clockwork mechanisms, cobblestones and foggy nights, demented aristocrats and dodgy lower class types, inhuman creatures from the sea and their barely human half-breed spawn, creepy flights into darkness and sudden escapes, and two brassy mercenaries who are strangely familiar with 20th century slang. Best of all, there is also an automaton who comes equipped with all of the wit, intelligence, and sexual drive that his original human model - our strangely bland hero - appears to lack. Two peas in a pod, except one pea is infinitely more tasty. Imagine a clockwork version of this: Note the eyes! Spoiler? The writing is luscious and rather gleefully sardonic. It winks at you while delivering its narrative thrills in a delightfully vivid, semi-archaic purple prose package. And it almost feels like Jeter is even sending up his own traditionally enigmatic heroes. The answers to many of the questions swirling around the oddly placid protagonist lie within his very stolidity; his unimaginative blankness and prim limitations are actually the key to Infernal Devices' central conundrums and contraptions. Clever. And the climax is a literal climax. Ha! Also featuring... The End of the World! Maybe. A version of this review is part of a larger article on Jeter posted on SHELF INFLICTED

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    Things I learned from K. W. Jeter in this book: 1) ALL women are only thinking about one thing. If they are Sexy, then they are sex-crazed animals who will rip off a man's clothes as soon as look at him (this is Logic) no matter how loudly he protests the indignity and begs her to control herself, madam! Alas! 2) If a woman is Not Sexy (i.e., middle aged and/or overweight) then they are on a mission fueled by jealousy and frustration to stop ANYONE EVER even THINKING about sex, ever again. Either Things I learned from K. W. Jeter in this book: 1) ALL women are only thinking about one thing. If they are Sexy, then they are sex-crazed animals who will rip off a man's clothes as soon as look at him (this is Logic) no matter how loudly he protests the indignity and begs her to control herself, madam! Alas! 2) If a woman is Not Sexy (i.e., middle aged and/or overweight) then they are on a mission fueled by jealousy and frustration to stop ANYONE EVER even THINKING about sex, ever again. Either that, or kidnapping young virgins--a la Missus Meers--and selling them to satisfy the depraved desires of a corrupt elite class. Or (view spoiler)[ both. (hide spoiler)] 3) The plight of said kidnapped damsels doesn't actually need to be seen or discussed anywhere in the story. It doesn't matter how often they are referred to, how central they are to the plot; it is more than enough to have a single scene in which their enraged fathers and brothers try to beat the stuffing out of one of the corrupt elite, to truly convey the horror of the situation. (After all, the men-folks are the ones who actually matter. You don't even need to rescue the girls; gaining a personally satisfying moral victory over their pimps is just as good.) 4) Any brown person one meets--no matter how polished and refined their dress and manners; no matter how 'friendly', 'helpful', and subservient they are--will turn out to be (view spoiler)[harboring a secret hatred of White Man, which he is willing to put aside in favor of his own animalistic need to procreate. (hide spoiler)] 5) It's totally OK to consistently call other races ugly, if you do it in big words like "piscine physiognomy". I'm sure there must be good 'Steampunk' somewhere... but from now on I'll look for recommendations from [real] people whose judgement I trust. That is the last time I take reading suggestions from a "Best___ Ever!" list on the internet.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    The Good: There were some cool ideas here, and the Victorian setting is a firm favourite of mine. The first person voice – an extremely proper English gentleman – is very well done. The Bad: Some of the ideas are a bit childish and stupid. Plus the characters are just unbelievably one dimensional, and their dialogue is bad. The only two women in the story are two different kinds of nymphomaniac; one is the street smart, gung-ho nympho while the other is the rich, nasty type. I guess that makes them The Good: There were some cool ideas here, and the Victorian setting is a firm favourite of mine. The first person voice – an extremely proper English gentleman – is very well done. The Bad: Some of the ideas are a bit childish and stupid. Plus the characters are just unbelievably one dimensional, and their dialogue is bad. The only two women in the story are two different kinds of nymphomaniac; one is the street smart, gung-ho nympho while the other is the rich, nasty type. I guess that makes them two dimensional. 'Friends' character the protagonist is most like: George Dower is intelligent, thoughtful and seems to get rescued from all his problems by the actions of others. He is like Ross, only without the vast sexual experience.

  4. 4 out of 5

    colleen the convivial curmudgeon

    1.5 I keep bouncing back and forth on whether to give this one or two stars - though I'm pretty much sticking with the 1.5 either way. My dilemma is that while I didn't really like it, per se, I didn't actively dislike it, which is what I usually use 1-stars for, but I didn't like it, either. I guess, for the most part, it was "ok", and I was going to give it a 2-stars for most of the book, but the ending left me feeling kinda "wtf?", which is why I was thinking of dropping it down. But it did hav 1.5 I keep bouncing back and forth on whether to give this one or two stars - though I'm pretty much sticking with the 1.5 either way. My dilemma is that while I didn't really like it, per se, I didn't actively dislike it, which is what I usually use 1-stars for, but I didn't like it, either. I guess, for the most part, it was "ok", and I was going to give it a 2-stars for most of the book, but the ending left me feeling kinda "wtf?", which is why I was thinking of dropping it down. But it did have some things going for it... and also 'cause I feel like maybe I wasn't reading it in the right frame of mind... thus the consideration of keeping it at 2. What I mean about being in the right frame of mind is that, for one of my status messages, I'd said that it would be better having been written as a comedy because of the absurdity of the situations the bumbling Dower kept getting himself in, and it crosses that threshold of believability after one thing after another after another after another keeps getting piled on top of the idiot. The 'feeling bad' part comes in because, reading the afterword, is mentions the humor and the absurdity as being purposeful, as a sort of homage to the over-the-top Victorian adventure stories. So I'm thinking that, maybe, if I'd read it in that light, maybe I would've found it more enjoyable and less annoying? Though I can't say my expectations were skewed going in 'cause, honestly, I didn't really know what to expect, and I usually try and let the style of writing and the seeming mood of the book come across in the writing. So I'm not going to take blame, or anything, if I wasn't in the right frame of mind because I would say the writing, in the beginning, lead me to believe it was going for a more serious tone - so if it's meant to be more humorous in an absurd kind of way, then I would say the author failed to convey that intention via the tone. So there. Anyway - That's a whole lot of semi-ranting without touching that much on the book, yet, aside from the fact that it seemed like it wanted to be serious, but ended up being absurd, which I found more stupid and irritating than amusing or endearing. So a bit about the book and some of the good things: This book first came onto my radar when I was involved in a sort of genre debate about steampunk, and I discovered that Jeter coined the term. Being a fan of the genre - or, at least, the idea of the genre - I wanted to read some of the proto- works and this seemed like an interesting place to start. Of course, while I've often argued that steampunk is a form of sci-fi, generally, Jeter, himself, coined it in reference to "Victorian fantasies", and the science in this is very, well, fantastical. With few exceptions, there doesn't seem to be any attempt to stick within the confines of possible, or even plausible, science, what with the fishmen type things interbreeding with humans, and clockwork automaton working on principles of a metaphysical sort of resonance... That aspect of it, actually, made me think a bit of Perdido Street Station, but whereas China Miéville's work - though wordy and overly dense in place - had flashes of brilliance and awe-inspiring profundity for me, this book's attempt at metaphysical philosophies came across as mostly waffle. But, really, my biggest complaints were as I said before - Dower is one of those protagonists who is never pro-active, who constantly gets buffeted this way and that, and never really comes into his own at any point, and the sheer level of stuff that gets thrown at him from every angle is just beyond the pale. I never really connected with any of the characters - though I did enjoy Creff and Abel - and the various twists and surprise reveals at the end were just... *smh* I guess it makes a kind of sense, if it's meant to be an absurdist kind of tale, but, for me, it just came across as kind of asinine and I was thankful when it was done because I could say it was done... Blech. So - 1 or 2 stars? I still can't decide... ETA: I forgot to mention all the type-setting issues. There were quite a few of them and they were pretty distracting at times. What I mean is things like missing quotation marks, missing periods at ends of sentences, and random periods in the middle of sentences. Since things like punctuation can alter the meaning of sentences, or how you read them, I often had to go back and reread bits 'cause I was thrown by their random placement.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    Infernal Devices as a steampunk novel is not nearly as famous as its author is for coining the phrase steampunk. I think Jeter may have simply said the first thing he thought of, not realizing that the term would stick. This new edition of the novel attempts to capitalize on the recent popularity of steampunk fiction and well it should in my opinion. The novel is a prime example of a genre I love but tend to nitpick over, so do not let my rating discourage interest. I continue to float between 3 Infernal Devices as a steampunk novel is not nearly as famous as its author is for coining the phrase steampunk. I think Jeter may have simply said the first thing he thought of, not realizing that the term would stick. This new edition of the novel attempts to capitalize on the recent popularity of steampunk fiction and well it should in my opinion. The novel is a prime example of a genre I love but tend to nitpick over, so do not let my rating discourage interest. I continue to float between 3 and 4 stars and will probably settle upon 4 stars if only to not risk dissuasion. As Jeff VanderMeer points out in the epilogue of this new edition, Jeter is not a writer of steampunk fiction. He is a writer of dark science fiction who happened to write something now considered steampunk. I have no experience with Jeter's other works but I hope to change that. Essentially, the issues I had with this book had nothing to do with the steampunk characteristics. At the top of my list, I felt zero connection to the main character. I could not have cared less what happened to him. He sounded so put out through most of the story. I also felt buried in the wordiness of the book. I could have skipped whole paragraphs and my knowledge of the story would not have been lessened. I am also not a fan of the story within a story technique used more than once in this book. I have often been indifferent to this but it felt as simple information-dump and lacked finesse. What I did love were the majority of the secondary characters. They were all quite crazy and unique. My favorite was Scape. I loved how Jeter managed to convincingly portray a character in Victorian times who spoke American vernacular. And the image of Scape and his flying machine will stick with me. The Brown Leather Man, well, I can not say anything about him without providing spoilers. Suffice it say that I tally his character in the plus column as well. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys steampunk fiction, whether as a first foray into the genre or for avid fans. This novel deserves greater recognition and the reissue.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    I've had this book vaguely on my mental list of books that might be interesting for a long time, but I picked it up on pure whim. I'm interested in how many low reviews it has: I think the problem is that people expect something great and marvelously written from the book that inaugurated such a huge cultural phenomenon as steampunk. It's not that. It's fun, silly, often ridiculous, and in no way intended to be taken too seriously, I think. It's a juxtaposition of ideas, written very much in the I've had this book vaguely on my mental list of books that might be interesting for a long time, but I picked it up on pure whim. I'm interested in how many low reviews it has: I think the problem is that people expect something great and marvelously written from the book that inaugurated such a huge cultural phenomenon as steampunk. It's not that. It's fun, silly, often ridiculous, and in no way intended to be taken too seriously, I think. It's a juxtaposition of ideas, written very much in the tradition of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and with a protagonist that reminds me very much of the common mental image of bumbling, unintelligent John Watson. (Which usually ignores that he is a doctor, an army man, and capable of handling fire arms, not to mention trusted by Holmes who is obviously no idiot. He has a certain lack of imagination, yes, but he's not as stupid as the stereotype would have you believe -- and certainly not as stupid as the protagonist of this novel.) I thought it was fun, and actually pretty absorbing. Not convincing as anything serious, but fun. I'm glad Angry Robot republished it, it's been a nice diversion from waiting for the slow wheels of the NHS to turn.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was a fun early steampunk book. The character seemed to just reel from disaster to disaster with no time to adjust. It was fun.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    I marked this as did not finish a few nights ago, and then I looked at how many books I had marked "DNF." Shamed, I woke up my Kindle once more and attempted to keep going. I should have listened to my gut. For most of my life, even if I hated a book, I would read it. The whole goshdurned thing. Then I would say, "THAT WAS SO AWFUL WHAT A WASTE OF MY TIME NGHAAAH!" or some such incoherent gabbling indicative of anger. Strangely enough, when I started working in a library, I started abandoning book I marked this as did not finish a few nights ago, and then I looked at how many books I had marked "DNF." Shamed, I woke up my Kindle once more and attempted to keep going. I should have listened to my gut. For most of my life, even if I hated a book, I would read it. The whole goshdurned thing. Then I would say, "THAT WAS SO AWFUL WHAT A WASTE OF MY TIME NGHAAAH!" or some such incoherent gabbling indicative of anger. Strangely enough, when I started working in a library, I started abandoning books with abandon! Originally, it was almost a moral issue for me, i.e. "Well, I started it, so in order to be fair and just to the author, I must finish it." Then I saw how many new books we received every week (I worked at a branch library then), and I saw the plethora of books already on the shelves, and my strange compulsion to finish books slowly died away. I couldn't possibly read all of those books, and even if I tried, I wouldn't like many of them. Then, I went to library school, where we learned a bit of theory (yes, Virginia, there is Library Theory for us library folk). We learned S.R. Ranganathan's 5 Laws of Library Science: 1. Books are for use. 2. Every reader his [or her] book. 3. Every book its reader. 4. Save the time of the reader. 5. The library is a growing organism. So, 1-4 basically told me that I didn't have to like everything, because I wouldn't use what I didn't like, and I would be wasting time, because I was not the reader for the book, nor was the book for me. What's all this drivel got to do with Infernal Devices? Well, for one thing, you've just experienced the basic plot device of the novel, which generally consists of: What plot? Oh, that thing over there? *pokes with stick* Gee, it's pretty thin. Um, hey, look, it's a fish person! Secondly, it's my personal justification for not finishing this. As we all know by now, Jeter coined the term "steampunk." Hooray. Give the man a cigar! Elements that we've come to identify with steampunk--icons, if you will--are either absent or only very slightly present. For example, steampunk goggles are popular for various activities (riding in airships being the most practical use), and indeed one character I encountered (as far as I read) did have distinctive eyewear, but they were blue-tinted glasses. This is really more of a trippy quasi-Victorian mashup of detective story and Lovecraft. I mean, seriously, the inhabitants of Wetwick (Wetwickians???) come flopping straight out of "The Shadow over Innsmouth." The main character/narrator (whose name I already forget, except that he's a junior) is a bit of a Gary Stu. Things just happen to him, man! Like strange women from the future attempting the sexytimes! Like getting thrown into a river but somehow reviving! George! His name is George! There were, I admit, some amusing parts. The whole scandal with the church (although I didn't read far enough to get the whole story), was pretty funny in a slapstick sort of way. Um, I think that was actually the only funny part. George is pretty hopeless at everything. He has a job for which he's not qualified, he's kept on a man of questionable sanity as his valet/butlet/assistant, and he bestows exceptionally prosy monikers upon people he's met. For example, his first client, who has dark brown skin, becomes Brown Leather Man. What are you, like, two? Also: racism. Also, as noted in another review, the BLM speaks in anastrophe (i.e. Yoda-speak) which is not cool unless it's Yoda! George must repair a clockwork mechanism of his father's, but he has no skills in this area (I'm cutting to the chase, here), receives a strange coin from Brown Leather Man, is subsequently approached and then robbed by two ne'er-do-wells who are well versed in American slang, one of whom is a woman with a BOSOM (as women are wont to have) and who is determined to have the sexytimes with the main character. NOTE: Let it be noted that I here went and read the Wikipedia entry on this novel and WOW that explains a LOT. Kind of. Go over there to read if you want to see what I mean. Okay, back to the "story." I love madcap. I love it a lot. Bertie and Jeeves, anything by Jasper Fforde, screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s--those are all awesome! However, they also have plots and consistent humor. NOTE: I felt guilty. Again. So I went back to the book and skipped to the end. I have no words. I also now have no regrets about not finishing the whole thing. This is a case where the reputation of the book (first steampunk, etc.) is better than the actual book. For a much better steampunk, try the book of the same name (Infernal Devices) by Phillip Reeve. Actually the whole Hungry City Chronicles is worth a read--even though it's typically labeled YA. It's very mature and dark.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    This is one of the pioneering works of steampunk, and I'm glad I read it. It has many of the staples of the subgenre, from the Victorian setting to clockwork men, from time travel to not-so-mythical creatures (in this case, selkies). There are several well-crafted moments of ironic social commentary. It's easy to see how this wry and imaginative tale helped to set precedents for what followed. That said, I didn't really enjoy this as a reading experience, despite Jeter's always-elegant prose. The This is one of the pioneering works of steampunk, and I'm glad I read it. It has many of the staples of the subgenre, from the Victorian setting to clockwork men, from time travel to not-so-mythical creatures (in this case, selkies). There are several well-crafted moments of ironic social commentary. It's easy to see how this wry and imaginative tale helped to set precedents for what followed. That said, I didn't really enjoy this as a reading experience, despite Jeter's always-elegant prose. The narrator, who inherited his father's watchmaker's store but not the man's talent for imaginative clockwork inventions, remains passive and rather baffled throughout the action. The parade of characters he encounters are colorful, but none are exactly sympathetic enough to evoke an attachment. The tone was a bit too flippant for my taste, as well; it's hard to take the danger seriously when the story doesn't take itself seriously. For most of the novel, the episodic adventures/perils are unexplained and meant to be mysterious, but they didn't engage me quite enough to leave me wondering how they fit together. Ironically, in the eleventh hour, when the "infodump" portion of the novel connected all the dots, I discovered the underlying story was far more interesting than I'd realized. By that time, of course, the novel was drawing to a close. I love Jeter's Morlock Night, and I'm sure I'll reread it in the future. I appreciate Infernal Devices for its impact and legacy, but I doubt I'll revisit it for anything more than the insights it provides into the history of steampunk.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kat Hooper

    ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. George Dower's father was a watchmaker, but he didn't just make watches. Some of his special customers knew he was a genius with all sorts of gear work. When his father died, George inherited the watch shop. Unfortunately, he didn't inherit his father's genius. He can sometimes manage to fix a customer's watch if he sees that a part has worn out, or something else obvious is wrong, but that's about it. He's completely flummoxed when a strange brown man bri ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. George Dower's father was a watchmaker, but he didn't just make watches. Some of his special customers knew he was a genius with all sorts of gear work. When his father died, George inherited the watch shop. Unfortunately, he didn't inherit his father's genius. He can sometimes manage to fix a customer's watch if he sees that a part has worn out, or something else obvious is wrong, but that's about it. He's completely flummoxed when a strange brown man brings in something he's never seen before -- something George's father made. George has no idea what this infernal device does, but when he agrees to help, he's soon embroiled in a wild adventure that involves a secret London district with fishy-looking citizens, the Royal Anti-Society, the formidable woman who heads up the Ladies Union for the Suppression of Carnal Vice, a robot doppelganger, and a man and woman who speak 20th century American slang. George is starting to realize that his father may have been involved in some rather shady business. K.W. Jeter's Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy, first published in 1987, has been reprinted by Angry Robot because of the recent resurgence of Victorian literature. In fact, K.W. Jeter was the man who actually coined the term "Steampunk." As he explains in the forward, he meant it as a joke (referring to the term "cyberpunk") but it stuck. As promised, Infernal Devices is indeed a mad steampunk fantasy; it's filled with flying machines and other mechanical devices, Victorian moral and scientific societies, 19th century fashion and music, anachronistic technologies, and even some Lovecraftian monsters. The prose, dialogue and humor also feel appropriately Victorian, and Jeter's London atmosphere, with its clean shop fronts and grimy back alleys, feels authentic. Though there's a lot going on in Infernal Devices, it's light. There are no deep themes, moving relationships, profound insights, or brilliant images, but there are plenty of surprises and laughs. The protagonist, mild-mannered and bumbling George Dower, is not particularly interesting or dynamic, but I felt sympathetic towards him anyway. The other characters are amusing, but they're rather two-dimensional. This novel is a good example of "Mad Victorian" -- it's just fast chaotic fun. And it's a classic of the steampunk genre, so I consider it a must-read for serious SFF fans just for that reason. I listened to Brilliance Audio's version of Infernal Devices, which was read by Michael Page, who's got the perfect English accent for this novel -- he sounds slightly fanatical and frenzied. I loved his narration. The audiobook also includes a foreword by K.W. Jeter and an afterward by Jeff VanderMeer who explains the importance of the novel in the history of the steampunk genre.

  11. 5 out of 5

    ᴥ Irena ᴥ

    Infernal Devices is a dark and humorous account of events which almost destroyed the Earth. The story is then told by George Dower in retrospect, going back to the moment his faithful manservant Creff entered his room and told him he has a visitor, a "crazed - a murderous savage!". Dower inherited a shop from his genius father and he is trying to get by repairing what he can. A surprise visit from that strange man marks the beginning of Dower's adventures. Next thing he knows there are burglars Infernal Devices is a dark and humorous account of events which almost destroyed the Earth. The story is then told by George Dower in retrospect, going back to the moment his faithful manservant Creff entered his room and told him he has a visitor, a "crazed - a murderous savage!". Dower inherited a shop from his genius father and he is trying to get by repairing what he can. A surprise visit from that strange man marks the beginning of Dower's adventures. Next thing he knows there are burglars after the things he owns, murderers are after him, he receives a coin with an unknown saint on it, secret societies and very ugly and weird villagers are bent on killing him and that is not all. Dower's unexpected curiosity leads him to a London district nobody wants to talk about only to get him in even more trouble. We are not spoon-fed information, you don't get everything explained all at once. Even when the characters retell the same events, those events somehow retain the novelty. There are stories within the stories which is wonderfully written. This is a dark science fiction steampunk mystery with a lot of weird humour and a very unlikely hero. He doesn't get excited easily and most of things he does are somehow out of the character. So why not higher rating? I started reading this book more than once. The beginning is really slow. I am glad I read it finally, but the beginning definitely doesn't show what kind of story is waiting past the visit of Brown Leather Man. I really liked this book, but then again I am sort of biased when it comes to steampunk, so take this with a grain of salt. Even now I am really not sure what I want to say about it except that I liked it. The other reason is I am not a big fan of "Little Did He Know" writing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ringman Roth

    I liked parts of this book, but overall there wasn't enough steampunk in it. The main character's personality was rather boring, and the pacing was all over the place. Furthermore, there were some really silly, "out - of place" elements in this book. Warning Spoilers ahead! I'm talking about the fish people. At first I thought this was some kind of lovecraftian(Shadow over Innsmouth) element, but the fish people serve no real purpose to the story. Most of them are part of a prostitution ring. You I liked parts of this book, but overall there wasn't enough steampunk in it. The main character's personality was rather boring, and the pacing was all over the place. Furthermore, there were some really silly, "out - of place" elements in this book. Warning Spoilers ahead! I'm talking about the fish people. At first I thought this was some kind of lovecraftian(Shadow over Innsmouth) element, but the fish people serve no real purpose to the story. Most of them are part of a prostitution ring. You heard right, they are fish hookers! The woman running the ring is actually posing as the leader for the Ladies Union for the Suppression of Carnal Vice. God knows why they were shoe-horned into the plot. I think the author just has a fish-fetish. Furthermore, a mystery character "The Brown Leather Man" also ended up being a fish person, who actually aided the main character through out the story, but then at the very ending revealed that he was one of the villians, by literally popping into the scene, and saying "HA!" Then he disappeared and was never heard from again? What kind of "twist" is that? I usually avoid spoilers, but I'm trying to prevent people from reading this silly waste of time. The book has the honor of being the first one to be "called" a steampunk, coined by the author himself, so many may pick it up for that reason. There a much better classic steampunks, however, that existed before the label. Pass up this for some HG Wells or Jules Verne instead.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    K W Jeter was one of the first writers of steampunk and the man who coined the term itself. Infernal Devices is an enjoyable romp written in a pastiche Victorian style with tongue firmly in cheek a lot of the time, it gently mocks it's pompous formal and stolid narrator who is put through a series of bizarre encounters featuring scenarios and characters who have since become tropes of the genre. The science and the explanation of the story events are a bit preposterous but it doesn't take itself K W Jeter was one of the first writers of steampunk and the man who coined the term itself. Infernal Devices is an enjoyable romp written in a pastiche Victorian style with tongue firmly in cheek a lot of the time, it gently mocks it's pompous formal and stolid narrator who is put through a series of bizarre encounters featuring scenarios and characters who have since become tropes of the genre. The science and the explanation of the story events are a bit preposterous but it doesn't take itself at all seriously and that's what I really loved about it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Infernal Devices is the first novel I've read in the now well-defined steampunk genre. Steampunk, as I understand it, is set exclusively in a Victorian setting, but contains many of the tropes of standard science fiction, including advanced technologies (though most rely on steam for energy, as opposed to electricity), time travel, alien beings, mysterious plot twists, and juvenile sexuality. While it has its roots in classic proto-sci-fi writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, it was refine Infernal Devices is the first novel I've read in the now well-defined steampunk genre. Steampunk, as I understand it, is set exclusively in a Victorian setting, but contains many of the tropes of standard science fiction, including advanced technologies (though most rely on steam for energy, as opposed to electricity), time travel, alien beings, mysterious plot twists, and juvenile sexuality. While it has its roots in classic proto-sci-fi writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, it was refined in the 1980s by William Gibson, Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter. Jeter coined the term steampunk as a lighthearted response to the growing popularity of certain works outside of the more prevalent cyberpunk movement. Infernal Devices deals with the bumbling adventures of George Dower, the son of a brilliant watchmaker and developer of advanced automatons. Dower has no specific will in the story, and the outrageous characters he meets and the outlandish events unfolding around him throughout the novel seem more of a brief and frightening interlude to an otherwise purposeless existence. Dower is visited in his father's shop by the mysterious Brown Leather Man who drops off a mechanical device and a strange coin that send Dower down a path leading him to strange piscine boroughs of London and the alien landscape of the Scottish Hebrides. He meets a coin forger, a pair of hustlers with strange futuristic accents, fishmen, elderly mad villains, temperance leaguers, whores, the Godly Army, and real-life selkies. There are several sudden reveals throughout the novel which change our perspective of all the prior events. None of these reveals seems earned by Dower, but only forced on him by a manipulative secondary character. Dower might be the key to destroying the earth, or he might be the key to saving it. The reader is not sure until the last ten pages. Jeter's greatest strength is his deftness with the Victorian setting. He uses a breezy writing style which is eminently readable, but manages to imbue each scene with the grit and smoke of Dickens or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When Dower walks through Wetwick, we see the shadowy alleys and the lurching denizens. We smell the rot swept into the gutters. Also, concerning the mechanical automatons, Jeter writes with verve. The Paganinicon, which resembles Dower in all ways except for his skill with a violin and another important tool (where lies Jeter's juvenile treatment of sexuality), enforces the fantastic and comedic tone of the novel. While Infernal Devices is a greatly entertaining read, I feel it's maybe not the best introduction to the steampunk genres. Jeter hits all of the superficial cues. There's magical mechanical technology, flying machines, weird underclasses, secret societies, myths come to life. But one of the most important aspects of the genre, as I understand it, is the punk spirit underneath its most important works. We see no liberating of non-western individuals from the obscurity the Victorians doomed them to. Jeter only briefly addresses the perils of the technologies of the future. I'm not suggesting every novel should involve these themes, but Jeter's novel seems to be on the lighter end of the spectrum of this genre. It's still a pleasant read. I'd just call it more steamgentry than steampunk.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Lots of fun in one of the original steampunk books! The beginning of this book, while slightly slow, is full of amazing descriptions of life in Victorian London -- you honestly feel like you could be there yourself, which, considering all the things that ooze and stink, wouldn't be such a great thing. George Dower finds himself embroiled in mystery and intrigue after taking over his deceased father's watch shop. Of course, having no mechanical abilities himself, he's having a rough go of it -- he Lots of fun in one of the original steampunk books! The beginning of this book, while slightly slow, is full of amazing descriptions of life in Victorian London -- you honestly feel like you could be there yourself, which, considering all the things that ooze and stink, wouldn't be such a great thing. George Dower finds himself embroiled in mystery and intrigue after taking over his deceased father's watch shop. Of course, having no mechanical abilities himself, he's having a rough go of it -- he finds it necessary to consider nearly any commission which comes his way, so when asked to repair a machine for a strange "leather skinned man", George has no choice but to attempt the project, even when it leads to his shop being burgled, a sinister hidden part of the city, and his own inevitable end at the hands of several factions who wish him dead. All of this is fast paced, and witnessing George's perpetual befuddlement is amusing. However . . . About two thirds of the way through the book, it's as if Jeter realizes that "hey, this book is getting pretty long -- what'll I do now?!" His answer to that, unfortunately, is a long information dump, where George relates all the crucial, up to this point hidden, information we need to pull the story together. Boo! Not only that, Jeter then rushes headlong into wrapping the whole thing up in just a few pages -- goodbye detailed descriptions! I will give him credit, though, devising one of the more . . . interesting . . . attempts to save the world that I have ever seen. All in all, a good read, but be prepared for it to fall apart at the end. It would have been much better to commit to a longer book, or even a cliff hanger with a sequel.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    I'd give this a 3.5 if it were possible because there is a lot to admire about this book - the first steampunk book literally (Jeter coined the term in an interview) and that fact alone is enough to get the stars rising. You can see where several authors got inspiration from this book - pseudo-Victorian language mixed with some far out ideas and mechanical devices both ahead of their time and unnaturally effective in their abilities. Plus fish folk and puritanical movements dedicated to rubbing I'd give this a 3.5 if it were possible because there is a lot to admire about this book - the first steampunk book literally (Jeter coined the term in an interview) and that fact alone is enough to get the stars rising. You can see where several authors got inspiration from this book - pseudo-Victorian language mixed with some far out ideas and mechanical devices both ahead of their time and unnaturally effective in their abilities. Plus fish folk and puritanical movements dedicated to rubbing out anything remotely blasphemous - yes I said fish folk! Icthyomorphic countenances and all! All in all a very enjoyable book to read. It lacks the depth of it's progeny - it's a short book compared to the steampunk offerings more recently, Hunt etc. but I'd recommend it to fans, plus their is a foreword from Jeter and an afterword from Jeff Vandermeer.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roy

    Although short in length and not a difficult read, it just didnt work for me. Some of the dialogue and scenarios Mr Dower were involved in just seemed overly comical. Steampunk has never been my favourite genre and having heard this was considered the founder novel of its kind, I gave it a shot. There seemed to be alot of waffle.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    If you need to fake your way through a Steampunk cocktail party, here's what you need to know about Infernal Devices and K. W. Jeter: a) Jeter jokingly coined the term "steampunk" in a 1987 letter to Locus to describe "Victorian fantasies," which he predicted were going to be the next big thing (unclear whether that prediction was a joke); b) this book involves the mechanically inept son of a clockwork inventor, who has inherited dear old dead dad's London shop, full of mysterious clockwork pieces If you need to fake your way through a Steampunk cocktail party, here's what you need to know about Infernal Devices and K. W. Jeter: a) Jeter jokingly coined the term "steampunk" in a 1987 letter to Locus to describe "Victorian fantasies," which he predicted were going to be the next big thing (unclear whether that prediction was a joke); b) this book involves the mechanically inept son of a clockwork inventor, who has inherited dear old dead dad's London shop, full of mysterious clockwork pieces; and those clockwork pieces lead him into a clandestine war between secret societies and mad inventors; c) there is a clockwork automaton, which fits what we think of as steampunk; d) and there are human-fishmen hybrids and hints of other Lovecraftian beasties (or possibly hoaxes), which does not fit what we usually think of as steampunk (with some notable exceptions, like The Steampunk Trilogy). When I think "steampunk," I think of something very much like the formula Vandermeer gives in the afterword to this book: mad inventor + invention (steam x airship or metal person/robot) x [pseudo]Victorian setting + progressive/reactionary/neutral politics x adventure plot What's curious about this older steampunk novel how closely it fits that formula... And also how it includes many other elements that don't fit into that formula but do fit in very well with the idea of it being (pace the subtitle) "A Mad Victorian Fantasy." For instance, and most obviously, the fishmen sure seem Lovecraftian, but we could also see them in the lineage of animal-people (Wells/Moreau) or lost-race stories (Haggard). Also, while secret societies aren't rare in today's steampunk (I think), Jeter comes close to the feverish Victorian interest in social organizations, from public anti-vice society to secret scientific society. (And as Vandermeer notes, it's easy to put the fishmen-hybrid slavery/prostitution ring into conversation with certain "decadent" writers, like Wilde--easy to imagine Dorian Gray patronizing one of these establishments.) It's interesting to see what this book gave to other writers (and the makers who enjoy steampunk material culture) and what those later workers in the genre didn't take. That's all blah blah historical growth of the genre stuff that I love to think about and you--I don't know how much you care about it. But if nothing else, take this away: there may be interesting steampunk work being done now that expands beyond the white male main character/Anglo-imperial setting--but this isn't it. Jeter's most interesting thematic doesn't have to do with race or gender, but with the inevitable march of time--the death of a species due to technological progress, the loss of sexual and economic innocence in two characters who have absorbed future moral-stances, the replacement of hand-made artifice by the loss of work. Jeter kind of indicates this in his new foreword, talking about how today's technological design is meant to look smooth, whereas Victorian technology is an irruption, impossible to mistake for the mass-made and the human. But I have to be honest, as fun as the story is, and as much as a point Jeter may have (eh, maybe, so-so), Jeter makes a couple of strange choices that hold this novel back from being great. The main character narrates the story, and his voice is great; but he's also an unimaginative and uneducated, so doesn't really understand most of what's going on around him. Which means that he spends a great deal of this book being lectured to about what's really going on. On top of that, the book is very episodic, with characters changing sides in ways that make sense, but don't necessarily help the pacing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa McShane

    I went into this knowing that it was a very early example of steampunk fiction, so if the science/steampunkiness was lacking, I wasn't going to mark it down for that. And it turned out that the science/steampunkiness was very good! Lots of clockwork things and people, and you can tell that Jeter came out of the same primordial puddle as Tim Powers. The plot was also pretty good. It was the characters that killed it for me. Basically, the hero, George, is a gormless panty-waisted wuss of the first I went into this knowing that it was a very early example of steampunk fiction, so if the science/steampunkiness was lacking, I wasn't going to mark it down for that. And it turned out that the science/steampunkiness was very good! Lots of clockwork things and people, and you can tell that Jeter came out of the same primordial puddle as Tim Powers. The plot was also pretty good. It was the characters that killed it for me. Basically, the hero, George, is a gormless panty-waisted wuss of the first order, complete with spine of jelly and brain of pudding. He spends most of the book stumbling into all sorts of trouble because he can't learn from the past. I can understand him being out of his depth at first, but he continues to be confused and useless whenever something weird happens. I was also frustrated that his adventure was a long series of misunderstandings in which he could never explain the truth. When it happens to Bertie Wooster, it's funny, because Bertie at least tries to act on his own initiative, but George is just as dumb as a bag of hammers. And this is more or less the entirety of the story--George stumbles into a situation in which he is either accused of something he didn't do, or is manipulated by someone else, and hilarity doesn't ensue. There's a bit of authorial manipulation near the end, when we learn (view spoiler)[that Sir Charles, who's been a major antagonist for most of the book, is actually one of the good guys. In at least two instances, if he'd really been a good guy, he would have behaved very differently than he did, but then we couldn't have had the big reveal at the end. I don't have any respect for this kind of story manipulation. (hide spoiler)] . Between this and George's complete wussiness, I couldn't enjoy the book, though I'm not enough turned off that I won't read any of Jeter's other books if I happen upon them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    More properly referred to as "steampunk" than sci-fi, and written in Jeter's kinetic style, it follows the hapless son of a famous victorian mechanical inventor. He's constantly mistaken for his rather more talented father, which ultimately puts him in the middle of a plot to destroy the planet (to clean things up of course) while riding it all out in a pneumatic carriage or some such. More than almost any other book I've read I'd love to see this made into a feature film.

  21. 5 out of 5

    D

    Mr. Dower gets chased. A lot. The end.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Heather Codename: ♕Dutchess♕

    Wow, this book was a huge waste of time. This is not steampunk and should never be described as steampunk. This is cog crap. There's about six different plots surrounding one major plot and it's such a jumbled mess nothing makes sense. Between the jesus freaks, the mechanical freaks, the whore owner, the random machine clone, the main character, and the random side characters...there's zero character development, next to no plot development and the plot is all over the place and I don't think th Wow, this book was a huge waste of time. This is not steampunk and should never be described as steampunk. This is cog crap. There's about six different plots surrounding one major plot and it's such a jumbled mess nothing makes sense. Between the jesus freaks, the mechanical freaks, the whore owner, the random machine clone, the main character, and the random side characters...there's zero character development, next to no plot development and the plot is all over the place and I don't think there was much thought put into it at all. I don't understand the hype. Maybe in the 80s it was a huge deal but honestly, if you're looking for Steampunk and want to use this as your introduction, don't. After George's father died, he inherited his father's watch making company even though he can barely tell a screwdriver from a watch strap. Suddenly, he's brought a mechanism he doesn't know what to do with and then is robbed and jumped and threatened and given a mysterious coin into the seedy underworld of London (because it's set in Victorian time so of course it's London). That coin then causes him to be threatened again by some random ass woman who's only purpose is to later on be discovered as a whore runner who then wants George died because he now knows her secret. Then, George is forced to go live at some random ass dude's house because he's the only one who can protect George from the jesus freaks and anti-automaton people. Only to discover that his father had built a mechanical clone of him (George) and he needs George's brain in order to stay alive. But not to eat his brain or anything like that, just to active some random bullshit box. So now, the jesus people think George is actually a mechanical bot and not human and... I just don't even know what the fuck I read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    A lot of imagination went into this book, but not enough discipline or storytelling craft. For the majority of the book, the author shoves the first-person narrator through inexplicable and astonishing events, and then crams their eventual denouement into a few pages via telling instead of showing, when other characters explain to our befuddled protagonist what was happening. For most folks, that would probably be enough to shove this down to a one- or two-star rating, but I'm more generous. What A lot of imagination went into this book, but not enough discipline or storytelling craft. For the majority of the book, the author shoves the first-person narrator through inexplicable and astonishing events, and then crams their eventual denouement into a few pages via telling instead of showing, when other characters explain to our befuddled protagonist what was happening. For most folks, that would probably be enough to shove this down to a one- or two-star rating, but I'm more generous. What really irked me about this book was the complete disdain for the laws of physics. Steampunk is, ideally, a subgenre of science fiction, which means it is supposed to show respect for as much of science as is possible within the bounds of the story. Want time travel? Faster than light travel? Or maybe teleporting "transporters"? Sure; but choose what you're going to mangle and keep it to a minimum. Steampunk in general doesn't deal well with this kind of parsimony, and this one is worse than most. And how can you have a Victorian England steampunk story that appears to be completely missing railroads?!? This is pretty vintage for steampunk — in fact, the author gets credit for inventing the term, however, since it was published in 1987. I found the couple that was from the future (kind of) quite entertaining, although the explanation of their origins (another of those annoying "tellings") was disappointing. Recommended only for steampunk completists. Sorry. (This was the book of the month for the SciFi and Fantasy Reading Group for April 2013. It was discussed here). ­

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ubiquitousbastard

    So, this book basically invented steampunk, I'm a bit of a fan of steampunk and yet I had never thought it necessary to read this. Part of me thought it would be like the tripe that is most of the genre these days, but I really should have given the inventor a bit more credit. I didn't have the issue that other readers have had with the language and the confusing science. Having read Jane Austen, the language in this book was comparatively easy, and the confusing science I just sort of went with So, this book basically invented steampunk, I'm a bit of a fan of steampunk and yet I had never thought it necessary to read this. Part of me thought it would be like the tripe that is most of the genre these days, but I really should have given the inventor a bit more credit. I didn't have the issue that other readers have had with the language and the confusing science. Having read Jane Austen, the language in this book was comparatively easy, and the confusing science I just sort of went with it. The resonance thing I understood right away, since I've read about accidents caused by such resonance. Then there's the fact that I just read the book Resonance. I also don't agree with the plot being slow or boring. I read the whole book in one sitting because it managed to keep my attention throughout. However, I was sort of shaky on whether this book deserved four or five stars. I honestly can't remember the last time that I gave out a five star rating, so I was more than hesitant to do so here. But then, I really enjoyed this book and I loved the originality (because, despite being steampunk, it isn't about a plucky heroine on an airship drinking tea). This book made me happy and didn't irritate me in any significant way...I think that's enough to finally warrant five stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lel

    This book took me a little by surprise. When I hear the term 'steampunk' I image trains, elaborate dinner parties with mad inventors, a duel with pistols, things along those kind of lines. What I found in this book was fun. There were mad scientist type characters, a sex crazed thief, a strange race of fish people, a mechanical violinist with human aspirations and a lame little Jack Russell. Needless to say I will be searching out more of Jeter's books. This book centres on the son of a genius m This book took me a little by surprise. When I hear the term 'steampunk' I image trains, elaborate dinner parties with mad inventors, a duel with pistols, things along those kind of lines. What I found in this book was fun. There were mad scientist type characters, a sex crazed thief, a strange race of fish people, a mechanical violinist with human aspirations and a lame little Jack Russell. Needless to say I will be searching out more of Jeter's books. This book centres on the son of a genius mechanic that builds crazy contraptions while maintaining a business as a watch maker. The son has none of his fathers flair for mechanics and gets himself embroiled in a plot to save the world from one of his fathers inventions. The book reads like a comedy version of Sherlock Holmes. Whether that is down to the time period that it is set, the fact that he has a man servant or the fact that he tries to do some investigating of his own I don't know. I couldn't put this down once I started it, the characters were amazing. I loved the fact that Dower just stumbles from one crisis to the next with no clue of the reason for any of his problems. Each crisis a little more amusing and exciting than the last. This book won't win any awards for literacy brilliance but it made me laugh out loud and hope that someone see's their way to making this a film/tv series or even comic.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ted Gilbert

    It’s been on my agenda for some time now to explore the works that make up the “first wave” of steampunk literature. The cohort of authors that comprise this moment are generally considered to be K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers, and James P. Blaylock, with various proto-steampunk authors, most notably Michael Moorcock coming before, and Bruce Sterling and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine following shortly. Like many current devotees of the genre and the culture, my main exposure to the literature h It’s been on my agenda for some time now to explore the works that make up the “first wave” of steampunk literature. The cohort of authors that comprise this moment are generally considered to be K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers, and James P. Blaylock, with various proto-steampunk authors, most notably Michael Moorcock coming before, and Bruce Sterling and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine following shortly. Like many current devotees of the genre and the culture, my main exposure to the literature has come in the form of anthologized short stories featured in collections like Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s Steampunk series (where I was introduced to Blaylock’s “Lord Kelvin’s Machine”) along with modern interpretations of the Steampunk genre by authors such as China Mieville, Ekaterina Sedia, and Cherie Priest among many others. I have always been the type of person who feels like they can’t truly appreciate the modern iteration of an art form without exploring its progenitors in depth; hence the soft spot I maintain for proto-punk like the Stooges, the MC5 and the Velvet Underground, as well as my fondness for silent expressionist cinema. Furthermore, there is much discussion about the early Steampunk works in current criticism, largely in reference to what is seen as a greater political awareness – more of an emphasis on the “punk” portion of the nomenclature, if you will. However, little is usually offered supporting the subversive nature of these works; instead the emphasis is often on the lack thereof in modern Steampunk. It’s difficult to work out how much of these assertions are the result of nostalgia rather than scholarship. Jeter’s seminal work Infernal Devices seemed like a good place to start my inquiries. To go into the plot of Infernal Devices in detail would be an onerous and unnecessary task for this space, not to mention it would spoil some of the more pleasurable twists and turns of the narrative. To lay a general foundation for this discussion, the following should suffice: Infernal Devices follows the relatively unlikeable and unremarkable George Dower, the son of a famous inventor, and inheritor of his estate. Dower has followed in his father’s footsteps only so far as he has acquired a minimal skill in engineering and sadly under-employs his great workshop towards the repair of simple mechanical problems within his limited abilities. A series of mysterious visitors, however, sends Dower into a world of wild plots and intrigue revealing facts of great portent about himself and his father that will forever shake his world. One of the most obvious differences between this novel and much of today’s Steampunk is that it is certainly located within Victorian London, as opposed to an imagined world governed by the tropes and technology of fantastic Victoriana. Yet, upon closer inspection it is clear that this world bears little resemblance to any actual London, but is really defined through the lens of the literary London landscape. We are whisked into this romantically bleak version of London in the very first sentence as Jeter writes: “on just such a morning as this, when the threat of rain hangs over London in the manner of a sentence neither stayed nor pardoned, but rather perpetually executed…(15)” This description quite intentionally evokes a sense of stasis and permanence that is transparently artificial: the perpetually damp and foggy London streets of Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and countless others. However, there is also a heavy affectation towards the qualities of American writers in this novel, both of the period and not, in Jeter’s writing. As a narrative of detection begins to unfold, it is not the meticulous orderliness of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, but the inviting and inventive strangeness of Poe’s sleuths. There is also a touch of Lovecraft’s psychologically unstable narrators in Dower’s characterization. Like Lovecraft’s protagonists, he is simultaneously transfixed and horrified by the events and revelations unfolding around him. As chapter 3 opens he writes, “I awoke the next morning, half-believing that the preceding day’s events had been but a dream, driven by its own eccentric machinery to a baffling conclusion. My sleep had been vexed with shadowy figures, dark-skinned and sombre, or with eyes hidden by blue glass and spouting incomprehensible obscenities; I would have been grateful to shake them out of my muddled head, to disappear with all the nocturnal phantoms that had gone before them (63).” Clearly the Victorian setting in this case is less a vehicle for reevaluating and deconstructing social conventions and industrial era technology than one geared towards repurposing historical literary modes and styles, sometimes towards deconstructive ends, but also towards a genuine interest in employing outdated, but still potent, linguistic styles. It is a generally accepted notion that the first wave of steampunk works exhibited a more unified set of characteristics than the modern iterations of the genre. It’s true that the umbrella that covers steampunk these days is extraordinarily broad; no setting, physical or temporal, or literary tradition, is capable of defining the parameters for the genre, yet while reading Infernal Devices I was struck by the sense that for all of its breathtaking scope, modern steampunk seems to exist within a much more specific set of expectations than Jeter’s novel does. Industrial victorian-esque imagery has become an ingrained part of popular culture via this first wave of steampunk literature, but also through films like spirited away Sherlock Holmes, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and as an aesthetic construction throughout virtually all media. Clockwork Victoriana has indeed become its own fictional construction, much as the romantic version off of which Jeter riffs had become before. Due to steampunk’s newfound ubiquity, authors are able to evoke visual imagery of machinery, fashion, and customs on a much larger scope through very economical uses descriptive language. In some cases merely a few lines about the ticking of clockwork engineering or pumping steam engines is enough to conjure a sprawling retro-futuristic industrial landscape, or a humanized clockwork automaton. Steam technology is only one part of a larger puzzle in Infernal Devices. The story is a mash-up of fictional landscapes as diverse as they are imaginative. Vaguely scientific constructions, defined more by the concepts that they signify than by their actual mechanics, interact with a race of sentient amphibious creatures and a shadowy London underworld more sinister than even the most cynical readers at the time would probably have expected. In some ways, it’s the blank canvas that Jeter had to work from that makes his novel unique and exciting. It’s easy to see how steampunk evolved from Infernal Devices and other works like it, yet it’s also obvious that it was not a straight evolution; it’s not as if every aspect of this novel would be borrowed, refined, or reinvented by later authors. The overarching aesthetic of Infernal Devices is one of plot turns and pyrotechnics. I am compelled to compare it in this sense to Alfred Bester’s The Stars, My Destination, mainly because I ready it recently and it is saliently on my mind. All the same I think the two novels share an insistence on continuously upping the ante around every corner, never allowing the author to think, even for a moment, that they are in command of what is unfolding. It is a novel very conscious of its power as an adventure story, something that the protagonist often reflects on. This quality hasn’t often been adopted by later authors. Though we tend to identify steampunk with a sense of adventure, many of the more critically acclaimed works are more character oriented, or emphasize the social and political implications of their imagined world, or both, but less frequently are they primarily occupied with the story that the setting allows them to tell. So finally, it seems pertinent to consider the political potency of Infernal Devices since politics is such a divisive and debated territory among steampunk fans. Compared to the politicized treatment that class conflict receives in the novels of Mieville or Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, Infernal Devices reads as fairly apolitical. However, the larger narrative is one of the competing interests of various social and political cabals treated with a cynically satirical tone. He uses the Royal Anti-Society to lampoon the scientific community and their patrons, and his absurd Godly Army to poke fun at religion. These political interests serve the narrative more than they do any clearly definable political agenda, yet there is certainly something subversive in presenting this sinister view of the way this world, albeit a fictional one, functions. Furthermore, underlying the absurdist treatment of these interests are some weighty themes such as cultural imperialism, slavery, and the unintended consequences of technology. These themes arise naturally from the mode of storytelling, yet that doesn’t make them less relevant. The political focus of modern steampunk may not have been fully articulated or realized in Jeter’s novel, but the seeds of it are easy to see. Readers who are inexperienced with the earliest incarnations of steampunk will find much to recommend Infernal Devices, especially those who are compelled by the more literary roots of steampunk. The largest difference to me is that this novel will also be very compelling to those whose interests lie more in classic SF and who may be coming freshly to steampunk. It’s interesting to me that the classics are less read within the genre’s circles since novels like this are such perfect gateways into the culture for the uninitiated.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ben Babcock

    Infernal Devices is the story of George, an unremarkable man with no major talents who has inherited his father’s watchmaker shop. Various zany characters show up and drag him into an intricate conspiracy reminiscent of H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, and mostly, in my mind, Jules Verne. K.W. Jeter propels George through increasingly dangerous, nonsensical, over-the-top adventures powered by steampunk, bravado, and sheer imagination. This is an adventure in the classical sense, and as a work of lite Infernal Devices is the story of George, an unremarkable man with no major talents who has inherited his father’s watchmaker shop. Various zany characters show up and drag him into an intricate conspiracy reminiscent of H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, and mostly, in my mind, Jules Verne. K.W. Jeter propels George through increasingly dangerous, nonsensical, over-the-top adventures powered by steampunk, bravado, and sheer imagination. This is an adventure in the classical sense, and as a work of literary fiction it’s quite fascinating. As a story, I’m not sure I’m as enthralled. Jeter’s style explicitly apes that of late-nineteenth-century narrators. For this reason it reminds me a lot of Wells and Verne, more so Verne, maybe, for the sheer grandiosity of imagination here. We have long-lost civilizations of merpeople, vibration engines that can destroy the Earth, holy armies ready to defend England against the scourge of fish-people, and so on. The technology is just beyond the reach of what you’d expect for the time period, much like we would see in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but Jeter, like Verne, is careful to offer up pseudo-scientifical explanations for these devices. As a literature lover, I’m intrigued by the narration and writing style. George is verbose and writes with the same kind of florid hyperbole one might encounter in Dracula or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s very different from contemporary storytelling techniques, and it wears on one. I can’t say that I like it, and it’s one thing to wade through it because that was how people wrote “back in the day” and another thing to have to do it because of a conscious stylistic choice by a modern-day writer…. Additionally, Jeter also portrays George as an infuriatingly passive narrator: he is always reacting to what is around him rather than taking action; he just lets the story happen to him. That being said, I’m not sure how much I can criticize Jeter here, because this is exactly what he’s doing: he’s not attempting to emulate this style out of a misguided sense that it will sound better, but rather, he’s trying to emulate the entire experience of a nineteenth-century science-fiction novel, strange narrative and all. Moreover, George is just such an unlikable person. I wanted him to get run over by a cab after about the first chapter, and my opinion only worsened as the story developed. He is a complaining, judgmental narcissist. This is totally intentional, again, but I still don’t necessarily enjoy watching him, if only because he seems like he’s supposed to be a sympathetic (if unlikable) protagonist. That’s why I called Infernal Devices an interesting piece of literary fiction. It doesn’t strike me as steampunk and science fiction except only incidentally. In this way, Jeter is playing a kind of game of meta-genre, wherein Infernal Devices doesn’t so much transcend genre as use genre as a tool for storytelling. That’s an interesting and worthwhile goal. But that doesn’t make me like it any better. Experiments are all well and good, but at the end of the day, I like story. You might love Infernal Devices just as a story if Verne and Wells, et al, float your boat. For me, though, it’s underdeveloped and underwhelming, and Jeter’s writing doesn’t help. It’s just not my cup of tea. Oh, and really, what is it with the male protagonists having to have sex with a woman as a necessary part of the plot? No thank you.

  28. 5 out of 5

    RascalKing

    The book was fine. The more I think about "Infernal Devices" and its protagonist the more I can come up with things to complain about, but in the end I still enjoyed the book. It reminded me a of other books like "The Crying of Lot 49" or "The hitchikers guide to the galaxy" in that the main character is supposed to be an affable every-man who keeps getting bounced from one madcap set piece to the other and is never not in way over his head. Or even really knowing what is happening. Now just beca The book was fine. The more I think about "Infernal Devices" and its protagonist the more I can come up with things to complain about, but in the end I still enjoyed the book. It reminded me a of other books like "The Crying of Lot 49" or "The hitchikers guide to the galaxy" in that the main character is supposed to be an affable every-man who keeps getting bounced from one madcap set piece to the other and is never not in way over his head. Or even really knowing what is happening. Now just because I compare it to those books you should not put it on their level. Its not that good. But its fine. Our hero, George Dower, is basically the same at the end of the book as when he started. He doesn't go through anything like a hero's journey. He doesn't change or seem to learn anything or progress as a character. The book's brevity is simultaneously its best and worst feature. We don't get a lot of time to explore the fun locales and insane circumstances the author has created. There are a lot of fanciful and fun ideas that only ever get half explored. I would like to have seen more of the Anti-Royal society explored, as I would have wished the same for wetwick/dampford and their residents, women's league for suppressing carnal vice (not their actual name, I have already forgotten it), or Mollie Maud/Mrs. Trabble. All of this seems to be sacrificed to keep up the manic pace and leave us as confused and in the dark as Dowser. Maybe not everything needs to be explained (or perhaps KW Jeter isn't capable enough to explain). But still, the book was fine. The more I think about it the more I can find to pick at it. It reminds me of the book that Fry writes in Futurama to capture the Big Brain, riddled with plot holes and spelling errors. Truthfully I just wanted to bring that up because the revealed big bad just pulls a "NOW I AM LEAVING FOR ABSOLUTELY NO RAISIN" and jumps through a window. The book was not without wit. It amused. I think it may have even been a good satire, I'm just not sure what the source of satire was. Yeah. Its bad. But I still enjoyed it. That may say more about my tastes than anything. It was fine.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Goldilocks275

    First and foremost, it should be noted that Infernal Devices, while marketed as a 'steampunk' novel IS NOT A STEAMPUNK NOVEL. It is a comedic satire of the 19th century adventure stories of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. It is also a satire of Victorian life and the spy thrillers of the 20th century (those one dimensional sex-crazed female characters are making mockery of the reserved ladies of the Victorian age as well as the single-minded Bond girls). However, this is also a darn good mystery fil First and foremost, it should be noted that Infernal Devices, while marketed as a 'steampunk' novel IS NOT A STEAMPUNK NOVEL. It is a comedic satire of the 19th century adventure stories of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. It is also a satire of Victorian life and the spy thrillers of the 20th century (those one dimensional sex-crazed female characters are making mockery of the reserved ladies of the Victorian age as well as the single-minded Bond girls). However, this is also a darn good mystery filled with confusing plot points that are gradually explained in appropriately wacky ways. For those reading Infernal Devices as a steampunk story will come away confused, angry and frustrated with the irreverent plot and mind-boggling character motives. For those who catch on to the satirical nature of the story, though, will find a fun, unpredictable romp that manages to poke fun at many popular subgenres of the last 150 years.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

    Goodreads Win Copy We meet George Dowell who father has left him his watchmaker shop but does not know anything about fixing them or any other mechanical devices. Suddenly there are strange people visiting his shop and things that belonged to his father are stolen. George finds himself in the middle of things that he does not understand. Enter a world of steam punk where time travel exists as a new adventures arises.

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