NOTE: This is going to be a slightly different review; in that, I thought I would ‘vlog’ my thoughts concerning this short novel whereby I bring you on a journey to a genre I have never read before. Let’s hope this is not a complete train-wreck of an idea, and if it is, I apologise to Neil Michael Burke for my periodic spasms of pseudo-creativity. I would also like to thank Burke for his generosity in allowing me to read and review/rant about his book!
All opinions, therefore, are my own and are not influenced by any outside parties.
I have never read anything from the dieselpunk genre, so I thought to first turn to the internet in order to formulate some sort of definition of what ‘dieselpunk’ entailed.
Ooooh, pleasantly surprised. Aja Romano over at the Daily Dot (‘Dieselpunk for Beginners: Welcome to a world where the 40s never ended‘) wrote a little something – which I highly recommend reading, if you too are like me and live under a rock – which was illuminating, to say the least. She writes:
Imagine a world where the 40s never ended – a world where even as technology advanced, the threat of Fascism continued to loom, film noir and screwball comedies were still all the rage, and swing bands and Arrow collars were still the height of fashion.
Do I have you attention now?
I knew it.
Oh, and Wikipedia is also helpful if you want a more basic outline of dieselpunk itself and how some contemporary authors perceive the genre as a whole. But I’m transgressing, aren’t I? Well, we can safely say that I am going to begin my adventure into this short story with a rudimentary knowledge of dieselpunk; which I hope still allows me to appreciate it more as a fictional work.
Side Note: I am honestly surprised that I haven’t read anything from within this genre! I must consult with my book advisor (i.e. Hannah) and see if she has read anything worth recommending.
And onto the reading we shall go!
5.12.16 *SPOILER WARNING*
The Last Ride of the Bastard Machine:
The year is 1956, and the east coast of the United States of America has fallen to the might of the Third Reich. The war between the two nations rages on and leading the fight from behind enemy lines is the vehicular warfare division, a guerilla force utilising highly customised and heavily armed vehicles to wage war on the Nazis.
The Third Reich has infiltrated the United States of America, in an apocalyptic takeover, where Americans are fighting for their right to their country. It’s an invasion of epic proportions and one that seems maintains elements of realism through the writing of Neil Michael Burke. Contextually, even though it is a short novel, Burke creates an intriguing alternate reality which incorporates elements of ‘history re-written’. As a History Nerd myself, I found this aspect fascinating and one that I am just going to touch on very briefly. It makes you wonder how the world would have turned out if certain events happened or didn’t happen; how the world would have been if World War II did not end the way it did; if world powers were even slower in their ‘liberation’ and takedown of Nazism. Although honestly, there are statements within this book that allude to a real historical fear pertaining to a historical consciousness surrounding fascism itself and the spread of Nazism – ideas concerning the ruination of democracy through fascist politics. With simple, concise sentences forwarding imagery and action on a complex level – Burke hones in on this fear and paranoia, which I found quite refreshing and a stunning display of creativity.
And I just really want to take a moment and point out that the imagery Burke uses during his action scenes is particularly worth mentioning. Not only did I stop and highlight the passages because that right there shows some sort of mastery over the English language but I could actually visualise the movements of the characters and the release of each bullet. I shivered when I read the descriptions of pain, of bullets meeting flesh – People, you will not be disappointed.
It is a gritty, edgy, grimy story particularly centred on the experience of American resistance fighters Barnaby Cash and Clemence Mae. Barnaby Cash is one cool and collected character. He commands – and as you read, he kicks Nazi ass. This story is very much about contriving the downfall of the Nazi occupiers, and Cash is very much about the killing of Nazis. His Bastard Machine is a blessing of mechanical engineering – my imagination went wild – and I do look forward to reading more about his character in (hopefully) future short stories. However, Clemence Mae for me completely stole the show.
You know how much I adore kick ass female characters and Clemence Mae was one of those for me. Ok, not only does this woman take no shit, but she is an expert machine gun operator and knows how to absolutely destroy. Burke’s action scene – which he definitely knows how to write – was superbly executed and Clemence Mae just kept on going – injecting herself with amphetamines in a bid to boost her adrenaline and keep kicking ass. She was literally a walking, shooting, talking, gun-shot wound – but she still hung on with all of her might. It showed courageousness, strength and bravery. Although it was the scenes towards the end of the story, where you discover more about her as a person, that for me, cement her as a three-dimensional character. I really admire the fact that although the story is only 23 pages (PDF and Kindle), Burke is able to craft three-dimensional characters. Although, Cash I found was still a somewhat ambiguous character, and one that doesn’t seem to have as much ‘meat’ in comparison to Clemence Mae (which, duh it is a short story) but there is enough for there to be an interest in his character, and an ability to understand him and how his character could be expanded upon in future works.
*prays that this becomes a series*
Oh, and I really enjoyed the addition of a British assassin – just saying, Jonathan Archibald Mason is one character that I will be looking out for because his story in itself I would imagine would be very intriguing indeed. I also want to make a point and talk briefly on the characterisation of the actual Nazi German characters. Considering that the entire plot line is concerned with the killing of Nazis, I found that they maintained a semblance of humanity – it’s quite easy to depict Nazi Germans as two-dimensional vessels of evil (coz, hello) – but Burke does so in a way that also depicts elements of the emotional manipulation of Nazi politics. You are kind of able to discern, in the concluding scenes, that these characters are fictional people obsessed with power and are a part of an institutional corruption concerned with maintaining purity and eternal recognition as the glorious Third Reich. These brief elements of in-house fear and political manipulation (especially with the hanging threat of the Gestapo) add to a three-dimensional plot that is executed quite well.
Concerning the genre itself, I actually enjoyed myself. Utilising the historical past with post-modern concepts of culture, technology and weaponry; Dieselpunk is the eccentric cousin of Steampunk, who wears military jackets, calls herself Sergeant and carries a pocketknife in her back pocket and a machete strapped to her thigh while riding a modified Harley Davidson that shoots fire out of its exhaust pipes.
Did that go too far? Maybe.
Dieselpunk also does a wonderful thing -it connects fiction with history. And especially now, with Neo-Nazi nationalists running around and claiming political offices by being ‘dapper’ and wanting to make countries ‘great’ again – I feel as though it is an important facet of human experience to be aware of our historical past so not to make the same mistakes. It is a logical assumption. But we still keep on carrying on our merry destructive ways – and ignorance is one of the worst types of crime, at the root of almost all inhumane actions against people. Dieselpunk, although a fictional genre, makes history accessible in ways that stimulate critical thinking. Burke, for instance, makes the reader actually think about the Hitler and the Nazis of our historical reality – what they did, how they achieved their power etc. Questions which open up an awareness of past events – events that forever fundamentally shaped how we perceive evil and human destruction.
I went on a bit of a tangent there, but this is a thrilling ride of a book – and I recommend reading it if you like a little attitude with your action. I’m excited to see what the next instalment, The Limefield Sanction, brings to the table.
Happy reading yall!