Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Drumlin Circus (Copperwood Press Double #1)

Title: Drumlin Circus – On Gossamer Wings (Copperwood Press Double #1)
Authors: Jeff Duntemann and James R. Strickland
Genre: science fiction
Price: $11.99 (paperback) $2.99 (Kindle)
Publisher: Copperwood Media, LLC
ISBN: 978-1932084016
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

From 1952 to 1973, Ace Books published their “Ace doubles” – two short science fiction novels bound back to back in the same volume. Each book had its own cover, upside-down from the other book. For various reasons, this process died out. Well, recently my friend Jeff Duntemann decided to revive the process via his self-publishing operation, Copperwood Press. Although they are physically one book (even the Kindle edition has both titles) I’ve decided to review the novels separately. Since I started with Jeff’s book, this review focuses on his novel Drumlin Circus.

Drumlin Circus is set on the planet Valinor. Some 250 years prior, a human spaceship appeared in the system and suffered a massive malfunction. The colonists and crew evacuated to the surface of the Earthlike planet and set up housekeeping. Shortly after arriving, they discovered Thingmakers – alien devices that, when a 256 bit code was tapped or drumed on them, would make something. These tools, called “drumlins,” proved vital to the colonist’s survival.

At any rate, society on Valinor is very similar both technologically and culturally to that of 19th Century America. There are, however, several key differences. Specifically, there is an organization called the Bitspace Institute, which is dedicated to improving the levels of science and technology so that their spaceship can be repaired. The Bitspace Institute spends a lot of its time suppressing and denigrating the use of Thingmakers. Opposing them are groups called the Grangers and The Tears, consisting of people who are perfectly happy to use Thingmakers and stay on Valinor.

In previous short stories by Jeff, the conflict between these groups and the frequently-quirky drumlin technology have resulted in fun-to-read stories with more than a whiff of Boys Own Adventure to them. In Drumlin Circus, Jeff goes darker. Here we discover that the Bitspace Institute has, quite literally, lifted whole pages from the Spanish Inquisition. Torture, kidnapping and assassination in the name of science are perfectly acceptable.

Don’t get me wrong – dark is okay, as is Boys Own Adventure – but it was a bit surprising to me. Having said that, I found Drumlin Circus very enjoyable and readable. Jeff has created a wonderful world to play in. It’s steampunkish yet willing to take a hard look at cultural assumptions both good and bad. Nor is everybody absolutely good or bad. Although the kidnapping of a woman starts the story off, by the end we wonder if the kidnap victim was entirely as innocent as she seemed. (I can’t be clearer than that without spoilers.)

I also found Jeff’s world a wonderful place to operate in. The drumlin technology has a consistent set of rules, and the 19th century manufacturing with 22nd century knowledge leads to some interesting problems. Lastly, Jeff is (I think) having fun with his narrator by inserting a woman from a much different era into the plot. The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed Drumlin Circus, and my message to Jeff is “write faster!”

Rating: 10/10

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