Monday, April 06, 2015

Battle of the 2012 Books, Bracket Eight, First Round :: Osama by Lavie Tidhar vs. The Steam Mole by Dave Freer

Our third match-up in the first round of Bracket Eight of the Battle of the 2012 Books is Osama by Lavie Tidhar going against The Steam Mole by Dave Freer. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Osama: Solaris, October 2012 (published in UK by PS Publishing in 2011), 302 pages, cover art by Pedro Marques. Osama takes place in an alternate universe (possibly based on an alternate history timeline), where Osama Bin Laden is not the terrorist we know, but the fictional hero of a series of pulp novels called Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante. Through 25 pages, the novel alternates between chapters from an Osama Bin Laden novel, which depicts fictional terrorist attacks that actually happened in our universe, and chapters from the point of view of a detective named Joe living in Laos. A mysterious woman gives Joe the assignment of finding the author of the Osama Bin Laden books. The author's name is Mike Longshott, but Joe assumes that's a pseudonym.

Lavie Tidhar is the leading Israeli author of science fiction and fantasy, although he now lives in London. Osama won the World Fantasy Award after its initial release in the UK.

The Steam Mole: Pyr, December 2012, 302 pages, cover art by Paul Young. The Steam Mole is the second in a YA steampunk series, after Cuttlefish, which competed in the Fall 2012 Battle of the Books. In a steampunk universe where the polar ice caps melted ahead of schedule, our young heroine Clara Calland has escaped with her mother to Australia, pursued by the British government, which seeks a scientific breakthrough her mother has made. They made their escape on the coal-powered submarine Cuttlefish, and Clara has fallen for one of its young crewmen, Tim Barnabas. The Cuttlefish is grounded for repairs in Australia, and when Clara's mother falls ill, she ends up at the mercy of some well-meaning but clueless natives, while Tim is stuck working on the huge tunneling machines called "steam moles."

Dave Freer is a South African writer living in Australia. He is best known for his fantasy in collaboration with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey, as well as his solo Dragon's Ring series.

The Battle: Through 25 pages, the strength of both these books is the setting. The battle comes down to a matter of degrees.

I like how The Steam Mole integrates a steampunk sensibility into a post-global warming world. There are some nice touches, like how reluctant Australians are to go into the sun during the day, but they'll gladly send aboriginals on errands. Most of the first 25 pages are spent summarizing the previous book, but the story starts to move in earnest as Clara realizes how seriously ill her mother is, and the reader realizes she was poisoned by agents of a London duke.

Meanwhile, through 25 pages, I love the initial set-up of Osama. The contrast between the pulpish chapters of Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante and the lush descriptions of Joe's home in Laos is terrific. There are fascinating hints in Joe's chapters that the reality he sees around him is fragile. I very much want to see him poke at the edges of his own universe and start to get an understanding of ours.

While I'd be happy to keep reading The Steam Mole, I absolutely do not want to put down Osama.

THE WINNER: Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Osama advances to the second round to take on either Beyond Here Lies Nothing by Gary McMahon or A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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