Tag Archives: steampunk

“I know what you can do, I’ve seen it. You hold no mysteries, Thaddeus Blaklok.” Kultus, by Richard Ford

2011; Solaris Books

288 pages; ~$9.99.

A friend bought Kultus from the estimable Pulp Fiction Books based purely on its ridiculous cover and blurb (its ridiculosity). I borrowed it afterwards and read it as part of the Literary Exploration 2013 challenge for my Steampunk genre selection.

Needless to say, neither of us were disappointed with Kultus‘s ridiculosity.

Protagonist Thaddeus Blaklok is an occultist mercenary and all-round badass who operates in the grimy steampunk city of Manufactory. The story starts with a gory demonic murder and pretty much stays on that level for the rest of the book. During his quest to get a hold of the Key of Lunos, Blaklok punches and shouts his way through waves of cultists, street rats, and demons. There’s a few hints at some kind of backstory for Blaklok; he seems to have been an important member of ‘the Community’ of occultists in Manufactory, and there are a few references to a tortured past. For the most part, though, Thaddeus is a one-trick pony. He sees no avenues of social interaction beyond hitting and shouting; to him, everyone is either a hapless authority figure (who get in the way, and so must be avoided) or an idiot (who can safely be hit until they stop moving).

So, in all, it’s dumb fun. Dumb – because the characters are one-dimensional at best – but fun nevertheless. There’s demons, “snappy” one-liners, and plenty of steam-powered violence. Manufactory is a pretty standard dirty, zeppelin-dotted steampunk city, although there are a few nods to imagination (the Spires, certain radioactive wastelands). I’m led to believe that demons are fairly standard in steampunk, but Kultus adds angels as well, which stirred things up a little. There’s also the requisite cast of simpering gutter-dwellers, cowardly slumlords, and even a team of hilariously-named superpowered assassins.

The writing itself is… dreadful. I know I’m used to literary fiction (whatever that is); I know I’m a snob when it comes to this kind of thing. In genre fiction, the writing doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. It’s the strength of the ideas which can carry the story. However, not only is Kultus pretty bog-standard in its ideas, the writing is really, really bad. As in ‘I’m not sure how this got published’ bad. I counted three – three! – instances of confused pairs (peel/peal; brake/break; breech/breach), any one of which would be painful enough, but three? Anyway. I think the best way to demonstrate the quality of writing is with a quote.

“Any advantage he could get might give him the edge he needed, and he was sorely in need of an edge.”

Says it all, really.



Filed under review, words

2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part five

This is it.

We’ve reached the end. Today, I’ll list the last nine books for the Literary Exploration reading challenge this year.

28. Romance


There’s plenty of novels which are romantic. But for my romance selection, I’m going to go to the bookshop’s Mills & Boon/Harlequin section and pick the pulpiest thing I can find – bonus points for muscular, hairless torsos on the cover. Then I will read it, and I will blog about it. Actually, the only pulp (or ‘category’) romance I’ve read was in the Historical category, and it was very bad. I know they’re not really for me, but I’ll give it a shot! Exploration.

29. Science Fiction

Reader’s choice.

Science Fiction is a gigantic genre. There’s so much ‘classic’ scifi which I’ve never read – things like Asimov, Wells, and Card – so I could choose something from that region. I’ve loved the cyberpunk I’ve read too, so I could pick something else by Stephenson or Gibson. Then there’s spec fic; although a lot of those seem to be in the ‘magic-girl-cover’ region, there’s potential there too. In the end, it’s too hard. So I’m opening it up to you, reader. What’s the best sci-fi book you’ve ever read? If I haven’t already, I’ll read it this year. What will you do with this power?

30. Steampunk

Richard Ford. Kultus.

I love steampunk books which don’t take themselves too seriously. I read one last year which had tesla coil walking sticks, zombies, and a steam-powered Queen Victoria, but it was so earnest as to be silly. So, for my next foray into steam and gears, I’ve chosen Kultus, by Richard Ford (not that Richard Ford). It’s about a mercenary trying to stop a cult from opening the gates of Hell. His name is Thaddeus Blacklok. I’m sold.

31. Supernatural

Glen Duncan. Talulla Rising.

I’m cheating a little bit on this one (can you tell we’re getting to the end of the list?). I read Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf last year, and thought it did a fine job of making an interesting story out of everyone’s second-favourite overdone supernatural creatures: werewolves. It ended suddenly, with a note of hope (for the werewolves, anyway – maybe not for soft, slow, edible humanity). I thought it was a great ending. Naturally, a sequel appeared last year, and I believe there’s a third and final part coming out in 2014 as well. Despite a sequel seeming a little unnecessary, Talulla Rising should be a good read.

32. Thriller

Gillian Flynn. Dark Places.

After reading Gillian Flynn’s latest, Gone Girl, I always intended to check out her earlier ones as well. Dark Places is considered on par with Gone Girl, so I’m excited to read it. Sadly (?) it bears no connection to the other Darkplace.



33. True Crime

Chloe Hooper. The Tall Man.

I had trouble picking a True Crime book. It’s another genre that I don’t have a lot of experience in. It made sense to look at something Australian, and I remember the story from 2004, so I’ll be reading The Tall Man.




34. Urban Fantasy

Jim Butcher. Storm Front.

Okay. Let’s take a little walk down Memory Avenue (that’s the phrase, right?). At the beginning of 2011, I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I’d signed up for the National Novel-Writing Month, but was terrified about actually having to write anything. So I searched online for writing guides, and found one from Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files series. I read it front to back, and felt really confident about writing a novel.

November rolled around. I mostly ignored the writing guide, churned out fifty thousand execrable words of dystopian sci-fi ghost story, realised I needed some direction, and went back to university to study writing and editing. Despite his influence in helping me develop life goals, I’ve never actually read any of Butcher’s novels. Which is strange, because they’re occult/supernatural hardboiled detective stories. I can’t wait.

35. Victorian

Charles Dickens. David Copperfield.

I had a lot of options here, so, as I’m inclined to do, I tried to hit the best of the best. I’m ashamed to admit that the closest I’ve come to reading Dickens is A Muppet Christmas Carol, so it made a lot of sense to read Dickens’ own favourite.




36. Young Adult

Paolo Bacigalupi. Ship Breaker.

Last year I read Bacigalupi’s breakthrough novel The Windup Girl, and although the story didn’t really grab me, the setting was one of my favourite dystopian futures yet. I’m not sure if Ship Breaker is set in the same universe, but with Bacigalupi’s expertise in environmental-apocalypse writing, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Well, that’s about it! I’m still looking for feedback and suggestions for these categories, so let me know if anything comes to mind.

I’ve already finished one book on my reading list so far – Krissy Kneen’s Triptych. It’s a confronting read, and very, very interesting, so I’ll try to get my thoughts straight and post something about it soon.


Filed under words