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Originally published Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:04 AM

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‘Fiendish Schemes’: a wild and whimsical steampunk sequel

K.W. Jeter’s “Fiendish Schemes,” the sequel to his groundbreaking steampunk novel “Infernal Devices,” continues the story of George Dower, who, after being talked out of suicide by a missionary to whales, is thrust into an ever-expanding circle of wild and whimsical lif

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‘Fiendish Schemes’

by K.W. Jeter

Tor, 350 pp., $14.99

K.W. Jeter’s new book is the long-awaited sequel to his seminal 1987 steampunk novel “Infernal Devices,” which arguably started the steampunk movement. “Fiendish Schemes” continues the story of George Dower, son of a deceased mad inventor.

Between the first book’s conclusion and this one’s opening, years have passed. Now desperately poor, Dower tries to kill himself with what he thinks is a clockwork gun, last remnant of his patrimony. But a self-proclaimed missionary to whales interrupts his attempted suicide. This diving-suit-clad vicar proposes the initial “fiendish scheme,” plunging our hero into a cascading fall of deeper and deeper plots, from which he ultimately emerges married and much wiser.

Ambulatory lighthouses, sex-starved robots shaped like giant apes, industrial accidents, sentient seas and a Margaret Thatcheresque politician who has grafted her body onto a steam locomotive all combine to make the hapless Dower’s progress wildly whimsical and mildly entertaining. There are a couple of obstacles to truly deep enjoyment, though.

One problem is the language Jeter uses, which can be overly elaborate, even stilted. Though with Dower as narrator a Victorian voice is necessary, the book’s style compares unfavorably with that of classic 19th-century writers such as Anthony Trollope and Louisa May Alcott. Less an issue is the feeling the novel gives readers of having walked into the middle of the telling of a joke. Marketed as a “stand-alone sequel,” “Fiendish Schemes” makes many references that, while not confusing to a newcomer, will resonate much more strongly with those who’ve read “Infernal Devices.”

Nisi Shawl reviews science fiction for The Seattle Times.

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