How could I have neglected to mention these two very different and very interesting summer reads? I have not reviewed them because they do not fit neatly into my requirement of taking place in a location that inspires travel. But they DO fit the summer reading needs of particular readers–lovers of super heroes or steampunk– take note.
The Black Stilleto, Black and White (NEW May 2012) by Raymond Benson persuades with realistic details of daily life in New York City in the 1960′s that it could be true. You just have to suspend the disbelief attached to the main concept. The narrator’s mother, now confined to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease, was once a costumed, karate-chop wielding, New York City crime fighter. Although she had no superhuman powers–except maybe her acute hearing and ability to instantly discern whether someone was good or bad, she confronted dangerous criminals and solved difficult crimes. (This book follows the original Black Stilleto book and does stand alone although I found the relating of prior events to be rather artificial.)
The writer inserts lots of timely references to pop singers and headline events making this a nostalgic trip to what we now think of as a more innocent time. We hear from the narrator in the present, the diaries of The Stilleto, and dictation tapes from the FBI agent who is supposed to be arresting her–if it just weren’t for their little love affair.
The Map of Time (newly released in paperback in June 2012) by Félix J. Palma plays with the concept of time in a more essential way than The Black Stilleto. This novel, firmly situated in the niche genre of steampunk, visits Victorian England during the rampage of Jack the Ripper, and the phenomenon of the Elephant Man and prominently features H. G. Wells and Henry James.
If you’re not familiar with steampunk, the style overlays science fiction onto a Victorian age where magical machines are powered by steam. There are whole library shelves of steampunk novels, generally written in the style of Dickens, Wells or other Victorians–as is The Map of Time. You can also discover art, music and performances that earn the label steampunk.
This genre may have emerged from a late 20th and early 21st century yearning for the days when technology was still full of promise–with possibilities not yet realized (or disproven). The people of Wells age believed that they were just about as modern as it was possible to get and fervently believed that machines could solve anything. Our own age has become a bit more disillusioned about those possibilities, although surrounded by evidence of the miracles of scientific invention. Then as now, humans never quite can sort out whether it is science or magic that allows these advances.
The Map of Time is long, humorous, masterfully written, and more enjoyable if you have a passing interest in things like time machines. I can see it as a perfect tool for some people. Steampunk or science fiction fans can wile away a long plane ride following the escapades of two young men trying to turn back time. Rich with details of a bygone London, it might enrich a trip to London, but I will remind you that your arrival will occur in the same year as your departure–not in the smoky filth of Dickens’ London.
(Both these books were provided for review by the publishers, but my opinions remain firmly my own.)