Mechanized Masterpieces – Sense and Cyborgs

This is a critique of the second story in the steampunk anthology ‘Mechanized Masterpieces’ edited by Penny Freeman.  The purpose is not to show all the mistakes and short comings, or say that I am a better writer, because clearly I’m not.  This is simply an exercise in critical reading with the goal of improving my own writing, and encouraging great writing from any reader that passes by.

There will be lots of SPOILERS here.  You have been warned.

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To be honest, I’ve never read Sense and Sensibility, or anything my Jane Austen.  Just not my style.  So, I can’t comment on that aspect of Sense and Cyborgs (SC) by Anika Arrington.  But what I can offer is the perspective of a steampunk fan and an aspiring author.

My reaction after having read the first paragraph of SC was “Oh no, not another first person story, and in a ridiculous accent too.  She (the author) will never be able to keep this up through the whole thing…”

Boy was I WRONG.  I found Sense and Cyborgs a sheer delight to read all the way through!  Writing an engaging story in first person is difficult, writing it with the accent of an old crusty pirate is just insane.  But, I was blown away by how Arrington managed to pull it off and make a really fun read.

The tale of danger, romance, and intrigue as presented through the eyes of a side character comes off as a light-hearted adventure that I really enjoyed.  For a first person, the characters were very reasonably well developed and the sense of drama was very well and believably conveyed.  This is one of my favorite stories in the anthology.

Clockwork cyborgs and Victorian garb abound in this solidly steampunk story.  The only thing that could have made it more of the sub-genre would be to have the pirates on a dirigible instead of a boat, but then again, that may have been overdoing it…

As far as criticisms go, all I can really complain about is the villain.  While ‘Whipsnake’ provided the necessary conflict to the story I didn’t like much about her, even her name.  Whipsnake reminds me too much of G.I Joe, or X-Men for some reason.  The real issue with Whipsnake is that her motivation is vague, and her attacks sometimes seems arbitrary, even once her story is revealed.

I’m nitpicky about plots and character/story motivation.  When I set the story down and replayed the plot in my head I had a hard time accepting Whipsnake’s violent hatred toward a man (and everyone associated with him apparently) who had intended only to do her good.  It makes for poor motivation of the character and as the major villain, a sort of minor hole in the plot.  I think a little more thought and perhaps embellishment on Whipsnake and the captain’s second historical encounter may have helped.

However, these thoughts didn’t come to me until well after I set the book down and was reflecting on it.  ‘Small potatoes’ really.  Sense and Cyborgs is an impressive piece of work that really embraces the steampunk theme to the fullest.  Read it first when you open Mechanized Masterpieces.

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5 comments

  1. PFreeman

    A parent is not supposed to have favorites, and I rather imagine editors of anthologies shouldn’t as well, but I have to admit, Sense and Cyborgs best captured my imagination and kept me engaged from beginning to end. Your observations are astute and dead on. Ms. Arrington set out to accomplish the near impossible in this short. She placed a pretty tall order for herself, but pulled it off masterfully. Whipsnake is a sticking place for more than one reader (or editor), but for a first effort, and functioning within the constraints of a short story, I think Anika exceeded our highest expectations. We can’t wait to see what she produces next.

    • guayja1

      Thanks again Penny. Oh, and by the way, don’t be surprised if you see an anthology piece with my name on it come across your desk before August. 😉 I’m already a big fan of Xchyler publishing.

  2. Anika Arrington

    You all are making me blush. It’s true that you have to know the rules before you can break them, but I think you have to know how and when to do it too. I wouldn’t have submitted this if it hadn’t turned out to be so much fun, that the disfunction was minimal. Thank you.

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