Thursday, 17 December 2015
Written in the early 70's, before steampunk was a thing, these books are ripping yarns. It's Biggles meets Jules Verne, part H.G. Wells, part Arthur Conan Doyle.
Our hero, Oswald Bastable, a captain in colonial India in 1901, travels in time to three alternate 20th centuries. Our very pucker captain encounters towering airships, monorails, "hovergyros" and gleaming Utopian cities. We encounter new versions of Joseph Stalin, Enoch Powell, Harold Wilson and Ronald Reagan (as an obnoxious boy scout leader).
The narrative is sometimes bogged down by political science debate. The fun stuff is finding out what happens when Brits stay too long in the steamy colonies - copious gin and tonics, visits to opium dens, characters spouting: "now steady on, old chap".
The last quarter of "The Steel Tsar" (final in the series, published in 1980) is a bit ponderous, with the narrator trying to make sense of the 'multiverse'. Mrs Persson, one of the reappearing characters (a member of the "League" of "chrononauts") is the trilogy's most intriguing individual.