Heather Blackwood

Books: Steampunk

Hounds of Autumn (2013)

Hounds of Autumn (2013)

Hounds-of-AutumnI really wanted to love this.

The cover is gorgeous, and the premise is fabulous–a young female inventor in an alternate London, living her life within society’s constraints.

The problem in this case is the steampunk.

I think there should be a corollary to Clarke’s Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” where people think technology is like magic, and can make it do anything they want it to.

The problem is that technology–especially the technology in straight steam punk–is really quite limited in what the it can do.

And in this case, there is no way it could do the things the author wanted it to do.

Yes, the idea of steampunk is marvelous, but in order for the devices to do even a miniscule portion of what the author wanted, you need microchips and titanium and many other modern discoveries. You cannot have a cat-sized automan, running on copper spool inputs, capable of decision making.

You just can’t.

Think of the earliest computers, the ones developed during WWII. They were huge machines, the size of giant rooms, and even at that great size, were capable of only basic decisions. In fact…

Here, look at this image (from here). That’s the 1950 version of Alan Turing’s Automatic Computing Engine (ACE). Even the Enigma Machine, which is little more than a portable cypher, was large and cumbersome to carry. Colossus–the computing engine whose only task was to decode intercepted messages–was gigantic. The Bombe (created to crack the Enigma machine) was hardly any smaller.

This book is set more than a half century earlier than the creation of the Bombe and Colossus.

There is simply no way you could have a small cat (or dog) sized automan that was capable of movement, and certainly not capable of learning through experience.

The sad thing is that she had added in just a smidge of magic, I would have accepted the steampunk creatures. But as pure technology? We don’t have computing engines capable of making such creatures now. There is no way they could be created 150 years ago.

Which is too bad, because the mystery was interesting (if a bit grisly [and a lot depressing]) and there were lots of lovely touches, such as this passage that immediately brought to mind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

A hundred yards away, over a rise that hid it from view from the road, they found the remains of a stone hut. It was small, barely large enough for two people to have slept inside. Only two thirds of the original round wall remained, and it was crumbling. Stones were scattered around the base of the wall, and it looked like some had been restacked at the top. The roof, which had once been made of branches, was long gone. A small circle of rocks was in the center of the floor.

But, as I said, only magic could create the steampunk creatures that were so commonplace in the book, and I just couldn’t get past the impossibility of the technology she was attempting to create.

It’s just terribly depressing that the author lacked the basic knowledge of computing history to believe that such devices could be created.

I can, however, recommend that you read about Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace and the Bombe and Colossus, because these early computers and computer scientists were truly amazing.

Published by Triple Hare Press

Rating: 1/10