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"Does the night seem uncommonly full of dead men and severed heads to you?"
Langdon St. Ives is a man of science and a member of the Royal Society. With the help of his dependable and discreet manservant, St. Ives prefers to spend his time secretly building a spaceship in his countryside silo. But currently he???s in London to help his friend Jack Owlesby recover a wooden box containing the huge emerald Jack???s father left him for an inheritance. Things get confusing when it???s discovered that there are several of these boxes that all look the same and all contain something somebody wants. Soon St. Ives, Jack, and a host of other friends and enemies become embroiled in a madcap adventure featuring a toymaker and his lovely daughter, a captain with a smokable peg leg, the scientists of the Royal Society, an evil millionaire, a dirigible steered by a skeleton, a tiny little man in a jar who may be an alien, a cult evangelist who wants to bring his mother back to life, a love-spurned alchemist who keeps trying home remedies to cure his acne, and a lot of carp and zombies.
As you may have guessed, Homunculus is zany and completely over-the-top in the right kind of way. The villains are meant to be caricatures ??? one of them is hunchbacked and another sneakily lurches around England with his head wrapped in unraveling bandages. They do stupid things such as leaving the curtains open while animating corpses for the evangelist to claim as converts, and tip-toeing up dark staircases carrying bombs with lit fuses. Blaylock???s bizarre but deadpan humor, in the absurdist British style (though Blaylock is American), was my favorite part of the novel. Even though Homunculus is packed with action and very funny when it???s in its farcical mode, the pace sometimes lags and the shallow characters can???t make up for it when that happens. Fortunately, that???s not often. The final scene is a screwball melee as all the heroes and villains, and thousands of London???s citizens, turn out to witness the story???s climax.
Nigel Carrington was a brilliant choice for narrator. There are a lot of similar characters in Homunculus, but Mr. Carrington made them distinguishable. He also hit exactly the right tone with the humor which ranged from deadpan to black comedy to zany farce. On my website, I've specifically recommended the audio version of Homunculus just because Nigel Carrington???s performance was a large factor in my enjoyment of the book.
If you???re in the mood for a surreal British comedy in the vein of Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, James P. Blaylock???s Homunculus will fit the bill nicely. Published in 1986, this is one of the earlier steampunk novels. In fact, Blaylock, along with friends K.W. Jeter and Tim Powers, all of whom studied with Philip K. Dick, are considered fathers of modern steampunk, and it was Jeter who coined the term to describe their work.
Homunculus won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1986.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
4 chapters in couldend get into story boring just droned on. couldent get into it at all. after 4 chapters still no idea what was going on or why i should care
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I'll be honest, this is one of those books that takes a while to get into. But once you get past the introduction and prologue, and settle into the proper action (chapter 2 on your download), Homunculus is brilliant. I love Terry Gilliam films like Baron Munchausen and Doctor Parnassus, so this type of story is right up my street.
The story is epic and detailed, and maintains a deadpan humour throughout, painting crazy characters and absurd situations in whimsical situations. This book is categorically not for realists, but a delightful romp. Nigel Carrington's narration is perfect in communicating the surreal British humour that runs throughout the whole story, and I loved the almost Blackadder tones he maintained for Langdon St Ives' character. If you enjoy the alternative magical realities created in books like Aaronovitch's River of London trilogy, and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula books, give this a go!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
I've come back to this book time and again because I am always amazed by Blaylock's perfect capture of the texture and rhythms of the Victorian period of which he writes. Neither heavy-handed nor affected, his use of period sensibilities and language comes through not only in perfectly balanced dialogue, but also his sharply observed descriptions and well-paced narratives of action. His characters are at first an array of pantomime parodies (the baddie is a hunchback named Narbando? Seriously?), but they soon reveal their own personalities and unexpected complexities as the story unfolds. And we cannot ignore the story itself, of course. Throw a cast of characters like this into a landscape littered with all the possibilities of a twisted version of Victorian London, drop in the possibility of immortality, sprinkle with zombies, and of course you are going to get a good story, but Blaylock's weird and darkly humorous mind has made it a GREAT story. And the thing I love best about this book is how he treats both the characters and the landscapes: from the grand sweeping views of the London cityscape over which passes a dirigible flown by an animate corpse, to the intimate exchange between Langdon St Ives and the butler he believes he is fooling with a ridiculous disguise, Blaylock pulls it off with a perfect blend of warmth, detail, and style that would be intimidating if it wasn't so tongue in cheek.
I admit I began Homonculus reluctantly, with preconceived stereotypes of the whole steampunk thing, and very ready to dislike and mock the book. But I am ready to admit how wrong I was, and have gotten so much enjoyment not only from this book but other James P. Blaylock works in this and other series that I am grateful I took a chance on this all those years ago (still unsure about the steampunk scene, however).
1 of 1 people found this review helpful