This post is dedicated to l'étoilette, birthday girl and all-around superstar Juleana Enright, who looks right at home in a pair of steampunk-style goggles. She is also the worst vegan I've ever met.
Author Cherie Priest has recently made quite a name for herself in the steampunk universe, and for anyone looking for an introduction to this strange and fascinating genre, her novel Boneshaker is an excellent place to start. I mentioned this book before in my Best Nerdery of 2009, but I thought it deserved a bit more attention.
Set during the Civil War in an alternate Seattle, Boneshaker combines Priest's two most revered genres: steampunk and horror. After a devastating drilling accident in the heart of downtown Seattle, a mysterious underground gas is released, infecting the city's residents and transforming them into flesh-craving zombies. A great wall is built to contain the heavy gas and the gut-churning undead, and the survivors residing outside of the city live in relative peace. Protagonist Briar Wilkes is forced to enter the city (via zeppelin, naturally) after her teenage son Zeke sneaks into the quarantine zone in an attempt to exonerate his father, the inventor responsible for the tragic drilling disaster.
An uncommon feature of the novel is that the main character is a single woman who we can assume is in her late 30s or 40s since she has a teenage child. It's still quite rare for novels and films to have a middle-aged action heroine, and it's commendable that Priest took this route without any self-congratulation or fanfare. While reading the compellingly visual book, I couldn't help but wish for a television mini-series of the story. I immediately imagined Paula Malcomson (Caprica, Deadwood) as Briar Wilkes, with her hair dyed dark. Are you listening Syfy? I'm giving you gold here!
In addition to being selected by Amazon as one of the essential science fiction novels of 2009, Boneshaker made it to the final ballot for the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novel and has been nominated for a 2010 Hugo Award. Priest will be following Boneshaker with Dreadnought, which will be set in the same universe.