Reviews

'The Affinity Bridge' Is an Enormously Fun Steampunk Novel

George Mann's book is a smattering of Sherlock Holmes, Neuromancer, and H.G. Wells all rolled into one enormously fun Steampunk novel.


The Affinity Bridge

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Length: 336 pages
Author: George Mann
Price: $13.99
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2010-04
Amazon

Hopefully Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes will become just as famous as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Newbury and Miss Hobbes are the two main characters in George Mann’s Steampunk novel The Affinity Bridge. Like their predecessors, Newbury and Miss Hobbes are detectives and partners. Unlike their predecessors, Newbury and Miss Hobbes have some wonderfully advanced gadgets to help them escape the book’s villains (such as a walking stick that seems to function as a Taser) and are solving crimes that might not be quite possible in 1901 -- such as the crash of an airship.

The book is masterfully planned and is an interesting combination of sci-fi, detective fiction, and Victorian literature. Science fiction and detective or mystery stories usually fit well together -- think Dark City or Neuromancer. Because of the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, science fiction and the Victorian Era are also firmly connected. Mann uses tenets from all these literary traditions to create a beautifully crafted novel.

There are really four mysteries in The Affinity Bridge. The first is a series of murders linked to a blue, glowing police officer. The second is the crash of an airship. The third mystery asks why are all these zombies running around London. And fourth: what happens next? The Affinity Bridge is part of a series -- The Osiris Ritual, the next book in the series, is scheduled for publication in the summer of 2010, and it is clear that some of the characters/plotlines, such as Miss Hobbes’ sister who has been institutionalized because she has visions, will be much more important in future novels.

The plot is intricate, and at times, there might be almost a little too much going on. However, Mann is setting up a world and setting up a trilogy. Most likely, and perhaps hopefully, his next novel will have a slightly simpler plot and a more consistent pace. Again most likely because Mann is setting up a world, the first part of the book might move just a little slowly.

Considering the world Mann sets up, I can forgive the slow pace and overly busy storyline. Mann’s London is a study of contrasts -- fog and smoke juxtaposed with bright sunny mornings. Both horse drawn carriages and automobiles clatter down the cobblestones. In Mann’s London:

Steam hissed from outlet pipes in great white plumes, whilst water gushed back into the river in a deluge of brown sludge. Huge airships were tethered to the roofs of the hangars, reminiscent of a row of children’s balloons, bobbing languorously in the breeze.

Airships are not the only invention Mann includes. In this Victorian era, the industrial revolution is not the revolution de jour. Instead, Mann presents the automation revolution by introducing “mechanical men” called automations. Essentially a robot, each one is “about the size of a man, skeletal, with a solid torso formed from interlocking breast and back plates. Its eyes were little mirrors that spun constantly on an axis, reflecting back the lamplight”, and they can do just about anything -- fly an airship, read, write, and murder.

Mann’s scientific advancements are not only clever; they are cleverly presented. Much like no one doubted Sherlock Holmes when he claimed he could tell that the skeletal remains of a dog were clearly that of a curly haired spaniel in The Hound of the Baskervilles, it’s very easy to believe Mann when he describes Queen Victoria’s artificial respirator:

The Queen was lashed into her wheelchair, her legs bound together, her arms free and resting on the wooden handles that enabled her to rotate the wheels of the contraption. Two enormous tubes protruded from her chest, just underneath her breasts, folding around beneath her arms to connect to the large tanks of air that were mounted on the back of the chair.

Mann’s science is inserted so smoothly into the plot that there is little need to suspend disbelief; instead, I simply believe.

With expressions like “My dear Miss Hobbes, what a splendid deduction” and “I’m using the bloody cane, man”, Mann maintains a Victorian flavor, and this flavor is not limited to turns of phrase. Like many Victorian novels, The Affinity Bridge begins in India, and the fear of disease, infection, or some other monstrosity invading Great Britain from one of the many countries it has colonized is also present.

Equally important, The Affinity Bridge contains a wonderful final twist -- a twist that perhaps gives a nod to one of the earliest science fiction novels of all time -- Frankenstein, and it contains thoughtful social commentary. Beginning with Miss Hobbes’ concern that the automations will push people out of their jobs and continuing on to the quintessential science fiction question -- should we try something just because we are technologically able -- the book includes social concerns but doesn’t hit the reader over the head with them in some overly dramatic didactic fashion.

Strong characters round out the story. Sexual tension, opium addictions, familial issues, and an interest in the occult all make for interesting character relations. Both of the main characters were drawn with care, but Miss Hobbes’ character is particularly well drawn. She is a strong woman but not too strong. She can hold her own:

Veronica was standing in the hallway, her feet planted firmly apart, pointing a glowing poker at the throat of a man in a policeman’s uniform. The man, who was tall and well-built, had backed up against the wall, trying to keep the angry woman at bay.

However, she’s not superhero strong, a black belt, or a weapons’ expert. The smell of burning flesh bothers her, she still cares about her wardrobe, and she doesn’t mind being asked to make a pot of tea.

When The Affinity Bridge ends, many of the mysteries are solved and many ends are tied up, but a few details -- the importance of Miss Hobbes’ sister and Newbury’s interest in the occult, for example -- still linger, and I’m anxious to see how these plot lines continue in the next book. The Affinity Bridge is a very well done piece of science fiction, but I suspect The Osiris Ritual will be even better.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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