Teaser Tuesday 8/27/19: “The Atomic Sea”

So this week I was reading The Atomic Sea by Jack Conner:


This is a science fiction/post-apocalyptic novel which a number of people on Goodreads have miscategorized, in my opinion, as steampunk. Why do I think it is miscategorized, you ask? Well, first, let’s get a definition of steampunk. I could write one, but quite frankly I’m too lazy, and Wikipedia already did it for us anyway:

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century British Victorian era or the American “Wild West”, in a future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. However, steampunk and neo-Victorian are different in that the neo-Victorian movement does not extrapolate on technology while technology is a key aspect of steampunk.

Steampunk most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retrofuturistic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technologies may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or of the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt, and China Miéville. Other examples of steampunk contain alternative-history-style presentations of such technology as steam cannons, lighter-than-air airships, analogue computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

While there is a superficial resemblance between the world of Atomic Sea and some of China Miéville’s books, notably Bas-Lag in Perdido Street Station, the settings are in fact quite different. Miéville’s Bas-Lag is unquestionably steampunk, with clockwork automata, airships, and the like, while the world of Atomic Sea has none of those things; it mostly contains contemporary Earth-analogue machinery and engineering. What Atomic Sea does have are alien and extra-dimensional weaponry with an odd variety of effects on its targets, and a vast radioactive ocean that has spawned mutant whales, toxic fish, and a poisonous atmosphere anywhere near the coasts. Oh, and also, these things:

It clambered up the beach, pincers clacking, and gunfire slammed into it from half a dozen positions. Lightning flashed from one of its strange claws into a group of soldiers. White fire exploded, and screaming men and women flew through the air. The atomic lobster clacked its claws again, and another burst of electricity skewered the man operating the machine gun. The gun and its heavy shells erupted, spraying fire and shrapnel into the soldiers behind the barricade. Those in the trench, some on fire, scrambled out, howling in agony.

Yeah, that’s an atomic lobster! Which is not to be confused in any way with a rock lobster.


One other interesting thing about Atomic Sea is that the villainous, ever-expanding empire that provides the threatening backdrop to the action is called Octung. Although we never actually enter Octung or encounter any of its denizens (other than a few spies and a warship or two hundred), I’m guessing it’s an analog for Nazi Germany, given that “Octung” looks like it would rhyme with “Achtung”. Achtung, baby!

Meanwhile, the last round of editing (I swear!) continues on Father’s Books!

He pushed on through the bramble thicket. The woody barbs scratched him everywhere he had exposed skin and a few places he didn’t. By the time he made it to the other side, where milkweed and sumac and tall, tough grasses grew, he was bleeding from a dozen little cuts. In the yard behind him, the dog was still yammering. He heard a distant door bang open and then somebody hollered at the animal to shut the hell up already, which it finally did after a few more grumbly complaints just to show it could keep barking if it wanted to. Fight the power, dog.

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