Brass neck: Felix and the steampunks

I’ve just come home from my second trip to Steampunk at the Asylum, an annual steampunk convention held in the lovely city of Lincoln.  It’s a marvellous occasion stuffed with eccentrics in the grandest British tradition: dressing up like characters from a Victorian science fiction novel, obsessing about tea and politeness, and parading round town confusing the locals with glee.

It’s also a subculture which is increasingly fascinating me as a phenomenon in its own right. I discovered the Asylum online in time to attend last year’s event, and instantly loved it simply for the costuming angle – I’m an inveterate thesp and sartorial eccentric, and have loved dressing up since I was a child. The more I discover about the culture that’s evolving out of it, though, the more I think it’s doing something genuinely unique.

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Lies of Locke Lamora readalong: week 2

OK, I admit it, I was a naughty boy and I ate the whole book at once. I just hate being spoilered, and I couldn’t read the stuff Scott Lynch posted without getting more than I bargained for, so… yeah. I regret it since I’m now missing out on all the shared speculation and fun, but anyway, I’m answering week 2’s questions with what I thought at that point in the book 🙂

1) Do you think Locke can pull off his scheme of playing a Midnighter who is working with Don Salvara to capture the Thorn of Camorr? I mean, he is now playing two roles in this game – and thank goodness for that costume room the Gentlemen Bastards have!

I could sell up and move to this blissful little world of roguish brotherhood. It’s beautiful. But the writer in me has the nagging sense that things are all a bit too perfect; this is the beginning of the book, and it’s supposed to be the world that gets left behind. There’s got to be a fall coming because good stories come out of conflict, adversity and challenge, not stable lives. And it’s clear how Locke’s schemes rely on a clockwork of props, theatrics, fellow players and flawless timing; when that comes apart it’s going to be spectacular.

But to answer the actual question – on the one hand, I think if Locke couldn’t pull off a scheme like that he wouldn’t have got himself into it, because it’s clear that Chains’ lessons have sunk in and he knows his own limitations far better these days. On the other – whether there’s someone or something else in the book that will prove as gifted at countering his moves as he is at planning the game – well I sincerely hope so, because if not, Locke’s going to be quite the Marty Stu.

2) Are you digging the detail the author has put into the alcoholic drinks in this story?

It’s not just the drinks, though. It’s the food as well – the descriptions of the dishes Locke and the Sanza twins cook is equally lush, and in several cases sound good enough to try at home. I’m very much of the opinion this is a book that could only have been written by a twentysomething male, so I can’t say it surprises me enormously that the booze qualifies for close descriptive attention, but since I’m not a big drinker myself I’m more intellectually interested in how he’s chosen them to fit into the social and cultural contexts. A ginger-based cocktail in a pseudo-Venetian summer is a lovely idea – rather like a curry in a hot country, something that gets the body to open out to the warmth and sweat it through.

3) Who is this mysterious lady Gentleman Bastard Sabetha and what does she mean to Locke?

I think she’s Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film, quite honestly. This is definitely setup (and I’ll admit to a certain disappointment when I realised Locke was straight) but it’s sparsely done, which makes me think the events it’s setting up for are not going to happen in this book. If I had to make a prediction, it’d be “eternal will-they-won’t-they two-cats-in-a-sack love affair which drags on throughout the entire series, designed to keep the (straight) readers on tenterhooks”.

If and when we do eventually meet her, she’s going to have to be just as fantastic a character as Locke is to make me do anything other than want to skip over those bits. I mean, it’s as clear as day that a character like Locke would only be happy with a partner who can give him a run for his money, which suggests that Sabetha is in some way his equal and opposite; for me, the acid test will be whether Scott Lynch can carry off the eventual romance (or non-romance) in a way that doesn’t make me switch my interest off.

4) Are you as creeped out over the use of Wraithstone to create Gentled animals as I am?

No, quite honestly. I’m not squeamish about things like that. I don’t get upset about eating meat when I realise how cute baby animals are either, unlike some of my work colleagues. You may wish to look away now if you have a sensitive disposition, but I grew up with a science teacher for a mother; every time the cats killed something and left it half-eaten on the carpet, she’d poke fascinatedly through the various wobbly pink and purple bits left behind and explain their names and purposes to me before she got round to actually cleaning it up. And then there’d be the days when I’d open the fridge in search of orange juice (invariably with a hangover, since these were my underage drinking years) and find bags full of bull’s eyeballs staring mournfully at me, waiting to be taken to school for dissection. It takes quite a lot to shock me after that.

5) I got a kick out of child Locke’s first meeting with Capa Barsavi and his daughter Nazca, which was shortly followed up in the story by Barsavi granting adult Locke permission to court his daughter! Where do you think that will lead? Can you see these two together?

I found child-Nazca an irritating little madam, to be honest; the way Locke instinctively went for the best way to manipulate her was delicious. Adult Nazca is a smart woman and clearly views Locke as a valuable partner in crime, but there have been plenty of hints dropped about Locke’s “damned peculiar heart” and I think we’d know if Nazca was the one he’s hung up on. A marriage of convenience, maybe, but I don’t think this is going to be his love interest for good. I devoutly hope that I get to watch a juicily hilarious scheme for escaping Capa Barsavi’s little plan, though; the potential for bedroom farce alone is mouthwatering.

6) Capa Barsavi is freaked out over rumors of The Gray King and, in fact, us readers are privy to a gruesome torture scene. The Gray King is knocking garristas off left and right. What do you think that means? 

That he’s making some kind of power play; but it’s not clear what. I’m starting to think the Grey King is going to be the big bad in this book, not just a bit of background colour. At the very least he looks set to play a key role in throwing Locke out of his comfortable existence in Camorr’s underworld and propelling him towards something bigger – although if it’s *not* the Grey King who is the biggest antagonist then Lynch is running out of time to introduce the real one. I’ve seen a mention of the Spider, the Duke’s one-man intelligence division, who could be another player, but as yet nothing that really makes me think “Oh, I get it…”

7) In the Interlude: The Boy Who Cried for a Corpse, we learn that Father Chains owes an alchemist a favor, and that favor is a fresh corpse. He sets the boys to figuring out how to provide one, and they can’t ‘create’ the corpse themselves. How did you like Locke’s solution to this conundrum?

Very Locke. Nothing goes past without him finding a way to take a cut for himself, and he knows the city and the people he’s gaming to a T.  I still maintain that this book isn’t really dark dark; it doesn’t have the bleakness of V for Vendetta, or the one-man-against-chaos feel of the darker Batman tales. Capa Barsavi isn’t a nice guy, but the torture makes Locke react violently against it; it isn’t his way. He even manages to steal from the not-quite-so-poor to give to the notionally-poorer in this interlude: it’s twistedly funny as only Locke’s schemes can be, but it’s nevertheless a ruse that relies on Locke understanding the hidden goodwill and charity in the people of his world.

* * *

As a general comment, I still think the Robin Hood archetype is what Locke’s character is resting on. I can’t remember if it’s before or after this point that someone mentions that Locke didn’t invent the Thorn of Camorr stories himself, but I found that a lovely touch when I saw it. A disjoint between Locke’s self-perception and the reputation he acquires is very humanising somehow, especially for a character so invested in controlling other people’s perception of him. I’d be prepared to bet that same disjoint (and Locke’s desire to control how people see him) will have something to do with the friction between him and Sabetha when she eventually turns up in the series, as well.

Looking forward to next week’s questions 🙂

Bookshop review: Gay’s The Word

I’d heard about the existence of a “proper gay bookshop” from a number of sources, over time, including a friend of mine doing a redoubtable PhD on library book provision for GLBT youth (in between obsessing about penguins). But somehow it had always managed to escape my consciousness exactly where it was, so it wasn’t till late October this year that I actually managed to visit it.

Gay’s The Word is a small and unassuming shop front near Russell Square tube station, and at the time I went in was tucked away under scaffolding which appears to be something to do with the buildings above. I entered with some trepidation since I’m well aware that good bookshops mean bad financial decision-making, especially when you’re stuck on benefits. Inside it’s a small but pleasant and airy space, with a tempting Fiction section right inside the door; further down are sections on transgender literature, magazines, erotica, women’s, a slightly unexpected office-cum-kitchen partially concealed by racks of postcards, and GLBT history. I picked up a copy of Jamison Green‘s Becoming a Visible Man, which is one of the most interesting books about trans men I’ve ever seen.

Moral duty discharged, I then felt free to dive into the fiction. There was a vast range from classic to crazy and ancient to modern; I spotted Armistead Maupin, a satirical film-noir comedy which reminded me of nothing so much as Malcolm Pryce,  classical greats, American novelists I’d never heard of, and to my fanboyish delight, fellow Cambridge writer Alex Beecroft‘s Shining in the Sun. Eventually I managed to whittle down my selection to a Stephen McCauley novel which seemed a little more suitable as light reading than Mr Green’s offering. I attempted to make a dash for the till before anything else could leap off the shelf into my arms, which proved fruitless since I was promptly waylaid by a keyring proclaiming “Get out of my way, I’m fabulous”.

The staff were a delight in and of themselves, chatty and friendly and more than knowledgeable about their product range; cashier Jim was only too happy to compare and contrast Jeanette Winterson’s latest book to her other work, as well as enquire whether I’d be taking my new keyring at its word and hurling old ladies out of my path left and right. Sadly we both concluded that we’re simpy too nice to be that awesome. I blame being British, myself.