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Aurorarama Hardcover – August 31, 2010
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Illustrations from Aurorarama
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|Title page||A Panorama of New Venice||"He drew a curtain aside..."||"...the disused Pneumatic subway line"|
From Bookmarks Magazine
Described as “gloriously retro literary steampunk” (Guardian), something like “what Jules Verne would write if woken from the dead and offered a dose of mushrooms” (National), Aurorarama captivated the critics from start to end. As it slowly unravels its secrets through Orsini’s and d’Allier’s alternating perspectives, the narrative “glides on silver skates from the surreal to the absurd to the languorously decadent” (Salon.com), balancing a stylish, suspenseful thriller with eccentric characters, sly humor, and a vivid and alluring setting. Salon.com bemoaned Valtat’s flat female characters and the National cited some of the pitfalls of world building, but these complaints didn’t diminish the charms of New Venice. A sophisticated and literate page-turner, Aurorarama should have a wide appeal among many readers.
Top customer reviews
For me, personally, I simply could not get past the turgid, Victorian prose. In other novels written in a similar style, I generally find that after the first twenty pages or so the Victorian "accent" disappears and the story and characters carry me along. That simply did not happen with Aurorarama. Perhaps this is my own failing as a reader, or perhaps the characters were simply too two-dimensional to lure me in. Additionally, the significant lack of well-developed, female lead characters is troubling and unnecessary, even in the genre. (Look at Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air for an example of a title that is steampunk and Victorian, yet has strong female characters).
Nevertheless, if you like the traditional steampunk tropes (e.g. dirigibles and geared machinery), and are untroubled by prose that manages to be artful but never quite lyrical, Aurorarama might be just your cup of tea. The plot focuses on a tense political drama in utopian city established in the Arctic at the end of an alternate-history nineteenth century. I would comment on the nuances of that drama, but I'm not certain that - without the aid of a reader's guide - I fully understood them. (Did I mention I found the language baffling at times?)
In sum, Aurorarama is very good at being what it set out to be, and if you are a fan of this particular sub-genre you will likely be pleased - albeit exhausted - by the experience of reading it.
On the political side, Aurorarama belongs to the fruitful genre of utopias---fruitful, in the sense that the exoticism of the scenery helps you reflecting about your own experience. To be more precise, even though the story takes place in 1908, many of the lessons of the twentieth century are on the operating table. As in a laboratory, we lean over guinea-pig characters and follow their efforts to tackle issues such as polar post-colonialism (with tragicomic, vivid eskimo scenes), sustainable development (by 80° north), pervasive police (all the more chilling that they are exquisitely polite), or "hedonistic fascism" (with hype music bands and hyper-protective surgeons working for the ruling power)...
Aurorarama has also delighted the fiction-lover in me, by intertwinning an otherwise straightforward tale with shamanic trances, spiritual journeys to the pole, uncanny hallucinatory descriptions or dream restranscriptions. Without being ever tedious in his psychological forays, the author manages to usher the reader into the most secret recess of the characters. By the end of the book, the main characters have become old acquaintances whom you leave regretfully.
Eventually, the novel brims with wit. The numerous dialogues are swift, even during dramatic showdowns. They give to the whole novel an effervescent pace, page after page.
Enchanted scenery, instructive background, enthralling story, wealthy language and witty dialogues: five well-deserved stars.
I have bought the sequel and am really looking forward to reading it.
All that being said, I honestly think that if you give this book a try you'll somehow manage to actually enjoy it despite frequent moments of utter confusion.