Review: ‘Infernal Devices’ by K. W. Jeter
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
When George’s father died, he left George his watchmaker’s shop – and more.
But George has little talent for watches and other infernal devices. When someone tries to steal an old device from the premises, George finds himself embroiled in a mystery of time travel, music and sexual intrigue. The classic steampunk tale from the master of the genre.
Without question, this book is the strangest book that I have ever read. And not in a good, unpredicatable kind of way. More of a “What the…?” kind of way. Everything was so surreal and seemingly unconnected and unexplained that I became weary. I just wanted something, anything, to be explained so that I could latch back onto the story. I guess that in that way Jeter does a good job of letting readers experience George’s confusion and does keep the promise of answers hovering in the distance but, for me, it was a bit too much.
The characters are, on the whole, extremely unlikeable. I did feel for George, spending every day of his life on a trade that he has neither chosen nor is any good at and living constantly in his father’s shadow. As a result, he comes across as rather wet and defeated. No matter what opportunities present themselves, however, and no matter how strange things get, he plods. Even after apparently having been kicked into action by a theft, George is reluctant and always a victim. Early on, I wanted to shake him. Later on, I’d lost the will to even do that. The unfortunately named ‘Brown Leather Man’ (and yes, that is because that’s George’s perception of his appearance…) is sufficiently intriguing but not particularly pleasant. He also happens to meet a pair of hustlers that use jarringly futuristic. The male half of the pair is only mildly irritating. The female half appears to think that the solution to every situation is seducing George…and she’s supposed to be liberated…
Whether or not you enjoy this book will most probably come down to one thing: whether or not you are happy with retrospective enjoyment. Once I’d finished the book and all of its secrets had been revealed, I could appreciate that it really was quite clever and was quirky in a reasonably good way. While I was reading it, however, I came close to putting it to one side plenty of times because I didn’t have a single clue what on earth was going on, never mind why. Unfortunately, me and retrospective enjoyment aren’t great friends; call me crazy but I actually want to enjoy something while I’m reading it, not after.
The problem with being hailed as the forefather of a popular sub-genre is that people go into it expecting it to be the finest example of that genre, rather than a seed of an idea. This is to steampunk what Bram Stoker’s Dracula is to modern vampire/paranormal fiction; the same elements are there, just not in the way readers have come to expect. Where Dracula and Infernal Devices certainly differ is that the former is a fantastic example of a genre that has been distilled over time while the latter is a mediocre example of a genre that has been enhanced over time.
Overall: If you’re already a well-inducted steampunk fan, this book is interesting and the edition I read has a brilliant introduction by the author written some 20 years after this was published and after ‘steampunk’ had really taken off. If you’re thinking of reading steampunk and are looking around for where to start, don’t start here. You’ll come away feeling perturbed and I can’t imagine you would be eager to try anything else.
Alternative reads: Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series; Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.
Date finished: 22 November 2011
Genre: Steampunk/Science fiction (Adult)
Re-Published: by Angry Robot Books in April 2011