Friday, January 15, 2010

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters.

Won in a giveaway from Ashley at Ashley's Library.

*** "Ridiculous!"

I love Austen's narrator's voice. In all her novels, I enjoy the gentle irony she writes with as she describes her characters, with all their quirks and eccentricities; their faults and failings. She always stops just short of mocking her characters, and allows you to laugh with her at their pride, selfishness and sillyness.

Winters does not bother stopping short of mockery. He leaps right over the line, heads straight past sillyness and ends up firmly in the territory of the ridiculous.

The "Alteration", an unexplained but often hypothesised about event in history, has caused sea creatures and humans to be at war. It's eat-or-be-eaten! Thus a pleasant beachside party of "tiki dances, crawfish fries and bonfires", swiftly becomes a situation of life and death, as a jellyfish "twice the size of the largest man present", "demonstrating itself to be faster than any creature lacking legs or other apparent means of locomotion ought naturally to be", advance on the party with the intent of consuming whomever it can catch. All the families enjoy a variety of seafood at every meal, and travel by sea has become dangerous indeed! Even a pleasant ramble renders one in danger of attack by giant octopus, if you are unfortunate enough to stumble into the brook!

This book follows the general plot and characterisation of Sense and Sensibility, while adding sea witches, pirates, and a fellow suffering from a cruel affliction, the addition of "a set of long squishy tentacles protruding grotesquely from his face". The difficulties of life in the "altered" Britain has also caused the characters to become adept at defending themselves from murderous sea creatures: says Marianne, "Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours, and if we are set upon by any sort of man-beast with lobster claws, I shall swiftly butcher it with this pickaxe I brought for that purpose".

Winters has also added a bit of steampunk (Victorian science fiction) to the book, by introducing Sub-Marine Station Beta, an undersea city ("the greatest engineering triumph of human history since the Roman aqueducts") where the fashionable set enjoy "undersea pleasure gardens and aquatic exhibition halls".

Did I enjoy this book? Yes I did, but I found that I had to read it in small doses. You have to enjoy silliness to enjoy this book, and occasionally the ridiculous factor got a little too high for me. If you enjoy Austen, it's worth a try.


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I like how you say that you need to read this book in small doses. That makes sense to me and I have been wondering about these books.

Fiona said...

Well, that's just me, some others may be able to read it straight through in one go.

Shannon said...

I could not get into P&P&Zombies... I wanted to, I think the idea of the book was so different. But I just couldn't get past the 3rd chapter! So I'm not sure if I want to try this one...

Fiona said...

I haven't read P&P&Zombies, but I suspect they're very similar. So if you couldn't get into that one, this one probably isn't going to be your cup of tea either.