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Karen Memory Hardcover – February 3, 2015
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“This lean, sinewy, visceral narrative, set forth in extraordinarily vivid prose full of telling detail, conveys a remarkable sense of time and place, where the characters belong to the landscape and whose personalities derive naturally from it.… Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on Range of Ghosts
“Elizabeth Bear launches a trilogy in a fantastic new world with this compelling tale.… Bear creates a vivid world where wizards must sacrifice their ability to procreate in order to control magic and the sky changes to reflect the gods of the land's rulers.” ―Publishers Weekly on Range of Ghosts
“Her characters possess depth of feeling as well as political acumen, bringing a personal element to a broad-scale epic fantasy…. Highly recommended.” ―Library Journal on Range of Ghosts
“Her language, a celebrated feature in all of her writing, shines here in her descriptions of the setting…. Like George R.R. Martin, Bear presents third-person limited viewpoints from multiple characters, a strategy that allows her to delve deep into their heads without losing her own distinctive poetic narrative voice.” ―The DC Spotlight
About the Author
ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, a Sturgeon Award, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She is the author of the acclaimed Eternal Sky series. Bear lives in Brookfield, Massachusetts.
- Publisher : Tor Books; 1st Ed edition (February 3, 2015)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765375249
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765375247
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1.16 x 8.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,516,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Short Summary: Karen Memory is the story of Karen Memery, a prostitute working in a higher-end bordello in Rapid City (a made up gold rush/logging town in the Pacific Northwest). The story is told as if Karen is telling you, the reader the story, either directly or as a journal intended to be read by an audience. "Karen" has a very relatable, if a bit folksy, type of narrative voice but it does move the story along well. As the story picks up there are a lot of heavily steampunk elements in the plot as well as a very sweet lesbian romance. The book's cast is extremely inclusive of minorities that often don't get a lot of page time (largely female cast, mixed races, mixed gender identities and sexualities).
Setting: This is set in Rapid City, which is a Pacific Northwestern gold rush/logging town that feels very not-Seattle with a bit of San Francisco's Chinatown mixed in. The most interesting piece of this setting, to me, was that the city was being raised up above the old street level and it was only halfway done with this process, so there were at least two levels of "streets" and you had to go up and down ladders to get into businesses and other destinations. On a smaller level, a lot of the action takes place in the Hotel Mon Cherie, a fairly upscale bordello.
Characters: The main character is, as you'd guess, the eponymous Karen Memery (Memery, not Memory, like the title though). Karen is the narrator as well. She's a very likable character, the type to stand up for her friends and do what she thinks is right. Although she's currently working in a bordello, she doesn't plan to earn her living on her back forever. She's got a very practical attitude. There's a pretty wide cast of interesting characters including the Madame of the bordello (very inventive with the swearing!), Priya (Indian girl rescued from a bad situation), the Marshal and his Comanche posseman, and the other staff and woman who work at Hotel Mon Cherie. Oddly enough, for me the villains in the story were the least interesting of the characters.
Plot: In broad strokes to not give away major spoilers - there's a serial killer plot mixed in with a personal vendetta against the Hotel Mon Cherie and political action on that front. This all ends up mixed in with a bigger plot that brings in more of the steampunk aspect of the book near the end. I realize that's not much to go on, but I really prefer not to give too many spoilers when I can avoid it.
Overall I very much enjoyed this read. Although it had some heavy topics, it didn't really get bogged down and was an adventure story more than anything. The girls in the Hotel Mon Cherie loved reading dime adventure novels to each other when business was slow, and that's the feeling I got from reading this book. It was a lot of fun!
characters are QUITE good, and once the story gets going it is good fun. I feel almost like Bear made it a steampunk story specifically so she could write about the sewing machine mecha, which is a truly great thing (even though I cannot imagine, nor is it ever explained, why something like that should actually exist). the romance elements work ok, even though i’m not all that into romance...
But aside from the distraction of Bear getting the flavor of Pacific Northwest weather consistently and obtrusively wrong, obtrusive at least if you've ever lived in the Northwest, what really bugged me was what usually bugs me about steampunk tech in written fiction: this isn't technology, it's magic pretending to be technology.
Several pivotal scenes completely fail for me because I just don't believe the technology she's imagined. I wasn't actually even bothered by the electric taser glove that needs no recharge and also acts as the seriously remote remote for a mind control ray generator. I gave her that one as a freebie, because all speculative fiction should get one buy for silly premises.
But honest to Pete and all the little archangels, there is no reason whatsoever for a machine that is designed to sew clothes to conveniently turn out to also be the steam equivalent of power armor crossed with an Aliens-style walking lifter loader, even if it were plausible that such a massive, steaming, cast-iron doohickey could be gotten to do broken-field running, stair climbing, and running long-jump, which it isn't. That's just stupid. I get that Bear said the sewing machine had been souped up for heavy-duty use, but still, nerp, there is no earthly reason for adding power armor mods on even a super-heavy-duty industrial sewing machine.
And don't get me started on how a giant mechanical squid is supposed to get leverage or traction to dismember an ironclad ship, because I can't even.
Top reviews from other countries
But don't get me wrong, this is a good book. It has an interesting cast of characters, an intriguing location and a really nice flow to the story. The time period and character of the protagonist really come across in the voice of the first-person point of view. The main character being female was a big plus I thought, and gave the story a lot more interest than I think would have been given by the usual macho male lead. All of this I really liked.
One criticism I did have was the fact that we only get small glimpses of the main bad guy at the beginning and at the end of the book, this just wasn't enough to feel real menace or threat from him, in my opinion.
All the things I didn't like were solely down to my personal preference and had nothing to do with the quality of the book or writing.
This was my first foray into the genre of steampunk, at least in novel form, and I was hoping to be more immersed in the technology and general world it drove, but we got very little of that here, possibly because of the book being in first-person point of view. I was also hoping for a little more sci-fi and not so much Wild West.
So, basically, this is a great book, it just wasn't quite what I was looking for. But I did like this book enough that it convinced me to buy another two sci-fi offerings from Elizabeth Bear.
I thoroughly enjoyed this helter-skelter ride through a richly re-imagined Seattle/San Francisco/Vancouver in that Victorian alter-world of steam-punk sewing monsters, the Lone Ranger (and Tonto), a cast of big hearted whores and a sensible number of really quite unpleasant men (who all richly deserved their fates).
Some laugh put loud moments ... "...maybe we'd eluded them for a bit. Not for long, though, because it turns out sprinting through the streets in a sewing machine with a Red Indian for an outrider does draw something of a crowd"... (well, I laughed out loud...)