Headlong Steampunk Exuberance

Cover art for The Black Lung Captain

I’ve just finished Chris Wooding’s The Black Lung Captain, and it’s a delight from start to finish. The world building is strictly kitchen-sink fantasy, with airships, demonology, wormhole travel, and a mad jumble of incompatible real-world technologies—shotguns and auto cannon cheek-by-jowl with magical tracking rings and half-sentient swords. It ought to come off as an amateurish pastiche, but the headlong pace of the story keeps your attention on the plot and the characters. It reminds me of Cynosure, in the Grimjack comics—basically everything is true, to one degree or another, in one neighbourhood or another, at least long enough to move the story ahead.

The best aspect, for me, was the omniscient narrator’s access to all the characters’ secret motivations and hidden agendas—our heroes are a tough, scroungy band of outsiders and outlaws, bristling with weapons and swagger. Inside, though, they’re as fretful and indecisive as any ordinary person—maybe a little more. The story proceeds on two levels at once—the strategy and tactics of a wild McGuffin chase across the planet, punctuated by gunfire, bloodshed, and airship malfunctions, and just as important, the successive revelations, reconciliations, and personal epiphanies that determine why they all persist in their hazardous adventures.

Wonderful stuff—dark and bright, violent and tender, but never gloomy or sadistic, and ultimately hopeful. Recommended.

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