Leviathan Rising (2008) is the second Pax Britannia adventure by Jonathan Green. Like his first, Unnatural History, it stars the intrepid Ulysses Quicksilver. Also like his first, Leviathan Rising can be read as a standalone adventure.
In Leviathan Rising, Ulysses packed off on the Neptune, the largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the Empire. This phenomenal vessel is not only piloted by the latest in Babbage Engines, but also is submersible. It's inaugural voyage takes it to America, New Atlantis and beyond. (Did I mention this was steampunk? This is definitely steampunk.)
Naturally (or unnaturally), things go horribly, terribly wrong.
For one, there's a big-ass squid monster with armor and huge teeth. For two, there's a mysterious agent of the Chinese Empire on board - and Ulysses has no idea what he's plotting. For three, guests keep dying - and Ulysses is somehow the prime suspect. For four, MEGALODONS. For five, .... really... I'm not sure I need to keep going. Needless to say, there are explosions, exotic beasties and a sprinkling of buxom young women.
This is all shamelessly silly. Even beyond the suspension of disbelief required to pick up the book in the first place, Leviathan Rising stretches the imagination. From start to finish, it is campy, over the top and shamelessly, wildly goofy.
Most importantly, Leviathan Rising, above everything else, is fun. Deliriously so. Every page is infected with a wonderful sense of joy. Don't get me wrong, I love my "worthy" genre fiction - gloomy, dirty, big heavy themes, existential angst & questions of identity - but after reading so-bloody-many in a row, this is the perfect antidote. Leviathan Rising is something different, yet no less special. This is the sort of book that makes me giddy and ten years old again, my mind filled with impossible adventures and wild daydreams.
And, to give Mr Green credit, creating this sort of work is a rare and wonderful talent. Being over-the-top is commonplace, but being genuinely entertaining is rare - the difference between telling a dirty joke and being Bill Hicks. Leviathan Rising, the author deftly combines punchy dialogue with lurid description; painting a wonderful, exotic world and then populating it with sharp heroes, sinister villains and horrendous beasties. This is pure, unadulterated pulp - the sort of fiction that made fiction fun to begin with.
Ulysses himself is an impeccable showman: late to every meal, always without a plan, always pulling it off at the last minute. Within a chapter, you can understand why everyone loves him (except his butler. Poor Nimrod must want to strangle Ulysses twelve times a day). Still, even Ulysses is overshadowed by the giant-armored-fanged-squid-monster, which steals every scene. Mr Green lingers over every squiddy paragraph, lovingly detailing every sucker and fang. It may be Ulysses Quicksilver's series, but the squid gets both the title role and the standing ovation.
Leviathan Rising is exactly the sort of work that genre fiction needs - proving that a book can be entertaining and fun while still being well- and smartly-written. I'm proud that SF/F can use complicated metaphors and extrapolated scenarios to talk about complex themes. But, you know what? Sometimes I want a dashing hero, a swooning lady, some snappy banter and a Big Fucking Squid. Leviathan Rising delivers all that with style.
Tube journeys: 2
Rating: 8 enormous wiggly arms and 2 snapping shark-like jaws.