Monday, March 9, 2009

Gypsy moths?

I'm in a Philip Reeve mood right now. I just finished reading Starcross, so I could listen to Mothstorm with a guilt-free conscience, and then -- with all this year's award books finally under my belt (nothing was possible until I got through Octavian Nothing, Volume 2) -- I picked up Here Lies Arthur for my eyes. The guy doesn't have a webpage, nor does he blog, but he's such a good storyteller (spending a fair amount of his free time at the pub!). [Look, Mortal Engines has a prequel!] I think that Mothstorm is the final adventure of Art and Myrtle Mumby, and sorry I am to see them off.

In their third adventure [Here's the full title: Mothstorm, or The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus! or A Tale of Two Shapers: A Rattling Yarn of Danger, Dastardy and Derring Do Upon the Far Frontiers of British Space and I also enjoy the wit of the author credit: as told by Art Mumby, Esq. (with the usual interpolations by Miss Myrtle Mumby) to Philip Reeve (purveyor of scientific romances to the discerning gentry).], the Mumbys are celebrating Christmas (where "the pudding has gone rogue!") at their moon-orbiting home, Larklight, when the British Navy (astronomical division) arrives seeking the advice of Art's mother. Mrs. Mumby -- we learned in Larklight -- is a millennia-old creature known as a Shaper, and she is the creator of our universe. She loved it so much that she took human form.

The Navy has seen something way out beyond Uranus (which true ladies such as Myrtle politely call Georgium Sidus -- roughly translated as George's star), and the Mumbys, the Navy, and eventually Art's friend, the privateer Jack Havock make their way to those far frontiers. (Bear in mind that this is an alternative Victorian world, where the British empire extends to the nine planets and their inhabitants -- there's a funny little riff on Pluto here -- and space travel is possible due to a magical mixing of alchemical elements in what is called the "wedding chamber.")

Once there, they are taken captive by another Shaper -- who has created huge attack moths that are ridden into battle by a blue lizard race called the Snilth -- intent on conquering our universe. Art escapes capture, while Myrtle works her feminine wiles from the inside, and much ridiculousness (Queen Victoria atop a Christmas tree) occurs as our universe is saved.

I enjoy the sly inventiveness, the over-the-top British pip-pip, the innocence of these stories. I really liked Larklight when I listened to it two years ago, and I think Reeve has kept up his end nicely in the interim. The narrator of these stories is Greg Steinbruner, and I feel extremely schizo about his work. He has an unnatural sounding English accent (actually what it sounds like is that he is working very hard to create it) that I've commented about before, yet at the same time, he uses accents very successfully to create the British characters that populate this story. I enjoy his vocal creations quite a bit. I like his Art, narrator of these adventures, who boyish enthusiasm is deeply appealing. Art's elder sister Myrtle graciously shares portions of her diary to tell these stories as well, and Steinbruner is very careful to distinguish between his two narrators. Myrtle's tone and delivery are quite different from Art's, and Steinbruner's consistent in his two creations.

There's also the ... pause ... silence problem. Steinbruner has shown a tendency to take some serious time between sentences, which he doesn't need to do in order for us to follow what he is telling us. In close listening to this audiobook, it appeared to me that he and the publisher had made a conscientious effort to reduce these to a more natural length. But, then it felt like they stopped listening about halfway through: Steinbruner's pauses at the ends of sentences began to recur, as did the very long silences between chapters.

Finally, though, I don't think these would bother a casual listener. Steinbruner gets into the spirit of these novels quite nicely, and brings you along for a delightfully fun ride!

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