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Fiendish Schemes

by K. W. Jeter

Other authors: John Coulthart (Cover artist)

Series: Infernal Devices (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
941232,502 (2.95)2
"In 1986 K. W. Jeter coined the term "steampunk," applying it to his first Victorian-era science fiction alternate-history adventure. At last he has returned, with a tale of George Dower, son of the inventor of Infernal Devices, who has been in new self-imposed exile...accumulating debts. The world Dower left when he went into hiding was significantly simpler than the new, steam-powered Victorian London, a mad whirl of civilization filled with gadgets and gears in the least expected places. After accepting congratulations for his late father's grandest invention--a walking, steam-powered lighthouse--Dower is enticed by the prospect of financial gain into a web of intrigue with ominously mysterious players who have nefarious plans of which he can only guess. If he can locate and make his father's Vox Universalis work as it was intended, his future, he is promised, is assured. But his efforts are confounded by the strange Vicar Stonebrake, who promises him aid, but is more interested in converting sentient whales to Christianity--and making money--than in helping George. Drugged, arrested, and interrogated by men, women, and the steam-powered Prime Minister, Dower is trapped in a maelstrom of secrets, corruption, and schemes that threaten to drown him in the chaos of this mad new world"--… (more)
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» See also 2 mentions

A sequel to Infernal Devices.

This story picks up with our protagonist Dower once more reduced to dire straits, through a mixture of arbitrary misfortune, personal failings and social forces. While the previous tale had a certain mild Lovecraftian element, this is essentially a tale of pure Science Gone Mad.

Jeter pulls off the difficult feat of having an unsympathetic protagonist, or rather, one who totters always on the brink for me. It's very possible to sympathise with the plights he always finds himself in, and the way the universe appears to conspire against him. In many ways he's a more convincing protagonist than most, not a heroic figure but a victim. His stuffy conservatism, earnest wish to be left in peace away from unwelcome change, and rather slow reactions to goings on, are rather more like most of us than the usual run of lightning-reflexed go-getting do-gooders. Mostly he is motivated by a mixture of self-interest, self-preservation, arm-twisting and horror. Sometimes the unrelentingness of this is a little wearing, and Dower stands in the way of the reader getting what they want - explanations, action, story. You can't help feeling that if he would just get a grip-! But that is, in itself, a very consistent and believable portrayal of a tiresome, yet relatable character.

On the downside, one of the consequences of this interesting character choice is that Dower is barely a protagonist at all. There is very little pro. In many ways, he is more of a passive observer, or at most an unwilling puppet of antagonists, reporting to the reader the many unpleasant situations forced upon him. He rarely makes a decision of his own accord, and has very little influence over his own fate; indeed, sometimes he doesn't seem to even try and take charge of his own life. This can weigh the book down at times.

On the whole, it's a rather grim book for steampunk (as Jeter seems to be in general). There's a definite tongue-in-cheek humour to a lot of it, from Dower himself to many of the events and social trends observed. Nevertheless, Jeter portrays dark and miserable worlds and a bitter, self-loathing protagonist with a very Little Englander attitude. It's not cheery reading, but it's an interesting one seeing how the contortions of the plot unfold, and even ends on something of a high note. ( )
  Shimmin | Dec 18, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
K. W. Jeterprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coulthart, JohnCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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"In 1986 K. W. Jeter coined the term "steampunk," applying it to his first Victorian-era science fiction alternate-history adventure. At last he has returned, with a tale of George Dower, son of the inventor of Infernal Devices, who has been in new self-imposed exile...accumulating debts. The world Dower left when he went into hiding was significantly simpler than the new, steam-powered Victorian London, a mad whirl of civilization filled with gadgets and gears in the least expected places. After accepting congratulations for his late father's grandest invention--a walking, steam-powered lighthouse--Dower is enticed by the prospect of financial gain into a web of intrigue with ominously mysterious players who have nefarious plans of which he can only guess. If he can locate and make his father's Vox Universalis work as it was intended, his future, he is promised, is assured. But his efforts are confounded by the strange Vicar Stonebrake, who promises him aid, but is more interested in converting sentient whales to Christianity--and making money--than in helping George. Drugged, arrested, and interrogated by men, women, and the steam-powered Prime Minister, Dower is trapped in a maelstrom of secrets, corruption, and schemes that threaten to drown him in the chaos of this mad new world"--

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