Steampunk Dyspepsia Created by ggrihn on 10/18/2017 7:48:21 PM
Grim Expectations, by K.W. Jeter, reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor
Grim Expectations is the third volume in the “George Dower” trilogy by K.W. Jeter, which began with Infernal Devices, and continued in Fiendish Schemes.
As important as Jeter is in Steampunk, I must admit that I just do not like these books. George Dower, intentionally, is not a likeable character. Unintentionally (I assume), he is not an interesting character. He loathes himself and everyone and everything about him, and lets the reader know it on every page. His loathing is largely justified by the other characters and situations he encounters. Dower considers Steam to be a curse, a position hard to argue with as society has become so crass as to tolerate the use of dead babies as funeral decorations. There is only one good, innocent character in the book who appears for a few pages near the very end: the rest are rotters and villains. At least it may be said that they get what they deserve.
I have to give Jeter credit for the audacity of his imagination: the world-shattering machine in Infernal Devices, the walking lighthouses in Fiendish Schemes, and in this book an enormous airborne necropolis, kept aloft by gases generated by the decaying dead. Unfortunately, this fantastic invention really does nothing in the story except provide yet another terrific smash-up when it goes haywire.
I also must stand in reluctant admiration at the purity of Jeter’s style. Dower’s first-person narrative is densely Victorian, as though Henry James were mashed up with Edgar Allan Poe. My admiration is reluctant because the sheer density of the prose makes it a labor to read.
The book begins some time after the events of Fiendish Schemes. Dower has been living in obscurity and relative content with Miss McThane, another survivor, until she dies untimely of a typically Victorian wasting disease. The action begins with her horribly botched funeral. Dower, always more acted on than acting, caroms from disaster to catastrophe, trying to avoid yet more people that are hunting him under the assumption that he has knowledge of his mad genius father’s creations. His career peels an onion of ever more grandiose schemes, perpetrated by ever more secretive societies, each new revelation being heralded by the utter ruin of what has gone before. The story is not so much a plot as a catalog of revolting developments.
Several of the blurbs in the current volume describe the book as “funny” or “humorous”, which in my view must be applying very loose definitions of those words. Grim Expectations is always grotesque, sometimes ironic, and frequently sarcastic, but I did not find it at all “funny.” Chiefly, I found it unpleasant.
This is Steampunk at its most unrelentingly grim, dark, dirty, and desperate. Read at your own risk.
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