Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Richard Harland’s Worldshaker.

Before I write anything else I have to confess to two areas of apparent “vested interest”. Firstly Richard Harland was one of my lecturers/tutors at University in the early 1990s and he wrote me a very generous reference when I was looking for work afterwards. Secondly, in the mid 90s I worked for Allen & Unwin, the publisher of Worldshaker, for about a year and a half.
(Richard’s website also had a part in inspiring me to create this blog which is why I have a link to it in the sidebar.)

While this may appear to give me reasons for bias, I will also add that for one essay, Richard gave me the lowest mark I ever received for any assignment during my whole time at University (and I still remember after 19 years!!!), and A & U relocated my job to another city so I had to leave them and find work elsewhere in a less stimulating environment. So we can pretend that the positives have been cancelled out and a balance of neutrality has been restored.

Worldshaker was a book I didn’t want to leave. I read it at every opportunity and was disappointed when I reached the end. It’s the kind of book that demonstrates why continuing series of novels can be so successful. It is a book that creates a world and characters so interesting that you want to explore and experience them some more.

Harland has created an alternative history, a world where the industrial innovation and creativity of the Victorian era has taken a huge leap beyond the bridge and shipbuilding wonders of I K Brunel. In this world political necessity has driven steam age technology to achieve far grand goals than was the case in the “real” Victorian age.

Worldshaker is a massive “juggernaut”, part ship, part tank, part earthmoving excavator, which houses and employs citizens of various fixed classes. Perhaps a comparison could be made to futuristic stories of massive star-ships transporting nation sized communities through space – except juggernaut communities are earthbound and restricted to Victorian age technology.

Colbert Porpentine, heir in waiting to Worldshaker’s Supreme Commander, is thrown into contact with a girl who has entered his room to hide from the authorities. She is a member of the lowest of the low, a “filthy. A reflex decision not to expose the girl’s forbidden presence puts Col’s privileged position at risk and leads him to discover the price that others continually pay to maintain the lifestyle of the Juggernaut’s elite classes.

Worldshaker has what I consider to be a novel’s most essential qualities: strongly believable characters that I care about; an exciting storyline with interesting and original ideas and on a more practical level - short chapters.
I have found long chapters can be a stumbling block to successful reading. It is a major reason I’ve always struggled with Lord of the Rings. By the time I finish one long chapter, the task of reading another of similar length can seem too daunting, especially when other things are competing for my time. With shorter chapters it is easy to read “just one more chapter” several times in succession until a significant portion of the book has been read.

Worldshaker would be classed as a Young Adult title and it was a pleasure to read a book untarnished by the presence of graphic sex and foul language. From recent experience, books that don’t resort to such devices are becoming increasingly hard to find.

1 comment:

  1. A note of clarification:

    The low mark Richard gave me was for an essay on a Samuel Beckett play. He wasn't convinced of a conclusion I had drawn and marked me down accordingly. I realised later that I hadn’t included the relevant reference from the play that supported the point I’d been making so I deserved the mark I was given.


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