|I finished reading THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK by British science fiction author Mark Hodder the other day. It's the second steam punk novel by Hodder that I've read this year (I read A RED SUN ALSO RISES a couple of months back). But RED SUN was a stand-alone novel (at least for now), while JACK is the first in a series of adventures starring Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne. |
Both Burton and Swinburne were real men. Burton was a world famous explorer and author of some renown, having explored much of Africa (still referred to in those days as "the dark continent"), discovering the headwaters of the Nile in Lake Victoria and translating into English THE 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS. (Note: there's a terrific film about Burton and his explorer partner John Hanning Speke called THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON. It's highly recommended.) Swinburne, while not as well known as Burton, was a Victorian age poet.
In JACK, Burton is commissioned by King Albert (that's right, King Albert) as an agent of the crown. His mission is two-fold: to investigate the mysterious appearances of a ghostly apparition who has been dubbed Spring Heeled Jack. Jack has been seen many times over the years almost always in connection with a series of assaults on young women. He seems to appear from out of nowhere, leap madly about and then vanish back into nothingness.
The second part of Burton's assignment (and here he's aided by young Swinburne) is to find out what's behind the attacks on young boys perpetrated by (from all accounts) a band of red-hood wearing werewolves (Aaaa-oooo!!! Werewolves of London!) who are prone to spontaneous combustion.
Burton himself has had an encounter with Jack, one which left him extremely puzzled because Jack spoke to Burton as if they had met previously (a meeting Burton doesn't recall because it hasn't happened yet in his life) and because Jack gives Burton a glimpse of the explorer's future life, a life and career that really took place, at least in our reality.
It is soon revealed that Spring Heeled Jack is a time-traveler from the far distant future. His bizarre garb is actually his time-jumping mechanism and his appearances throughout the early 1800's wreck havoc with the established timeline, causing an alternate reality to come into being, a reality with incredible advances in steam driven technology.
To say much more would be to spoil the joys of the surprises Hodder has in store in this romp of an adventure. There's a group of very strange characters who resemble a Victorian Age Brotherhood of Evil from the old DOOM PATROL comics, there's time paradoxes aplenty and a corker of a climax chock full of swashbuckling action and derring-do.
THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK was published in 2010 and Hodder has written three more Burton and Swinburne adventures in the last three years. I haven't read the others yet but rest assured they are all on my "to-be-read" list.
If you're looking for a fast-paced, well-researched and very intriguing science fiction adventure, try THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK. I loved it!