Monday, 20 June 2011

Chris Wooding – The Black Lung Captain

Recently I attended an event at the British Library entitled ‘Why Science Fiction Appeals To Everyone’. The panelists included China Mieville, Tricia Sullivan, Adam Roberts and Erik Davis. One of the main points put forward and roundly supported by the panelists was that cinema had changed science fiction from a genre of ideas (or ‘what ifs’) to a genre of
visual spectacle.

This is an important distinction. I’ve often felt uncomfortable when science fiction proudly proclaims itself ‘the genre of ideas’. I don’t read a huge amount of books outside of genre, but the ones I have read certainly had ideas in them. Those ideas didn’t feature spaceships, alien worlds, zap guns or quantum shenanigans, but there were ideas nonetheless.

Visual spectacle is something I can get behind, and it doesn’t have to occur on the silver screen, a readers mind is just as good a place to project. The turning point of modern cinema is that most anticipated (and often disappointing) of beasts – the summer blockbuster.The Black Lung Captain ably emulates the things that make the summer blockbuster successful and brings them to the printed page.

Much like the farm boy who races off in his speeder, only to find himself racing towards the Death Star just hours later, The Black Lung Captain not only captures the visual spectacle element of cinema but also the constant motion. Huge dreadnoughts and frigates held aloft by aerium gas do punishment to each other as smaller Firecrows and Windblades dogfight in gut-churning aerial acrobatics. The Arch Duke’s Century Knights face off against unspeakable horrors and there, always in the thick of it, is Captain Darian Frey.

I had a real problem warming to the crew of the Ketty Jay in the first novel, Retribution Falls. For the first six chapters I was confused why I’d want any of the characters to survive (a feeling that dissipated quickly I’m glad to say). In The Black Lung Captain Wooding makes good on the faith of the reader. The cast of ne’er-do-wells are eminently more appealing – especially the Captain himself.

As much as this novel is about crosses, double-crosses, epic air battles and the fates of thousands, there is a much more human edge to it. The Black Lung Captain is about family, not of the biological sort, but the families we make for ourselves. The crew of the Ketty Jay go through some very awkward growing pains over the course of the story, but they discover trust, camaraderie, and belonging through their adventures. The character’s personal journeys and the paths their relationships take with each other gives a real emotional core to the book that will have
readers hooked.

Ultimately this book has it all: devil-may-care swashbuckling, aerial chases, cigar-chomping sky pirates, implacable daemons, and the sort of kick-arse characters you want to hang out with all the time. I literally could not stop reading this book. Each chapter made me keen to discover what
happened next.

Book three of the Tales of the Ketty Jay, The Iron Jackal is due out
in October.

2 comments: