10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Smarter than the Average Steampunk,
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This review is from: The Martian Ambassador (Blackwood and Harrington) (Paperback)
I find myself in something of a quandary with how many stars to give 'The Martian Ambassador'. It is an enjoyable Steampunk novel that breathes fresh life into some tired ideas. It is not however a perfect novel, the ending is rushed, and obvious questions about Baker's world, that may have inconvenient answers, are simply ignored. So four stars then? Well yes, but regular readers of my reviews (Hello Mum!) will know I have formed an attachment to George Mann's Newbury and Hobbes series, which I have also given four stars. Baker's novel is superior to Mann's in almost every way. So as far star rating goes consider 'The Affinity Bridge' a generous 3.5, and 'The Martian Ambassador' a curmudgeonly 4.5.
So why did I like Baker's novel so much? For a start, it's the lack of fog. This is a re-imagined Victorian England, but the introduction of Martian technology, has enabled the author to avoid the usual industrial-revolution-in-overdrive clichés. Second is Baker's reverence for the genre's forebears. There are a number of small homages to the writers that have come before him (such has having had one of the Martian craft come down in Woking). His references are seldom heavy-handed and it gives the novel an extra depth; something else for the reader to look for. Finally, Baker has had a pretty good stab at doing what nearly all great Sci-Fi novels do; using an other-worldly setting to hold a lens to modern society. They seem obvious when stated starkly, but Baker offers a subtle examination of racism, arms-dealing and war-crimes. He asks, what measures are reasonable for a state to defend itself, and looks (crudely) at the role of the press in stirring up mass-hysteria.
There are some complaints on these pages, that Baker's use of Faeries, and his mystical Aether, are not in keeping with the genre's traditions, but I found this approach refreshing. As a story, the novel doesn't quite work all the way through (most notably the Villain makes the classic megalomaniac mistake of not just killing James Bond), but 'The Martian Ambassador' is the start of a fresh new series, that manages to stand out from a cluttered field.