Wednesday, 17 August 2011

'Cyber Circus' - Kim Lakin-Smith

Cyber Circus is a book I've been looking forward to reading ever since I first heard about it. See my "To-Read Pile: August" blog for some of the reasons. Not only does Kim Lakin-Smith seem like a great lady, but her book also has a interesting blurb. We are promised a collection of freaks and outcasts who have all joined a travelling circus. The romantic in me simply cannot resist a travelling circus. Not just anyone can join this circus. It is a show, after all. The performers are all ‘different’ in a way. One of them is an ex-soldier with cybernetic implants, who will be forced to fight to save one of the performers, Desirous Nim. I like the sound of that stage name. The other members of the crew will hopefully join in and dazzle us all with their strange abilities. Sounds rather fun, does it not? NewCon Press kindly sent me a copy of Cyber Circus to review.

It all starts with a show and a betrayal. Cyber Circus has set down in a grubby little mining town with a population of a few thousand. Wolf Girl is on stage, treating the crowd to a gruesome show. Her lank hair is clotted with blood from the big chunks of raw meet she is tearing into with her teeth. Her performance is meant to revolt and stun the crowd, but one spectator feels something very different, lust. He is the local pimp and he has come to reclaim what was once his, Desirous Nim. Why not claim another prize while he is there? The Wolf Girl would be a fine addition to his stable.
But all that carnality had done nothing to sate his deepest need. No matter how he mixed tears into their smiles with the lash, or how many of their mouths suckered him, he could not achieve a true, beautified sense of his own fleshness. He wanted to be properly devoured. To be feasted upon.
A fight breaks out and Hellequin, the ex-soldier, along with the crew of Cyber Circus has to fight for their lives and friends. They make their escape, but the pimp is not one to give up so easily. However, there are many dangers lurking out in the wastelands. The crew of Cyber Circus is in for the fight of their lives.

It's not a long book so the plot is simple and basically just a long flight from the pimp. The complexity and what makes it so interesting are the characters themselves. They have one thing in common, they have all been violated in one way or another. Their bodies were changed, circuitry inserted or remade into the shape of an animal. Desirous Nim glows like a neon sign in Las Vegas, Pig Heart has the heart and head of a pig and Hellequin's head is full of wires.

Kim Lakin-Smith has captured the essence of torment in her poor characters and reading about them made me sad, but I also felt a glimmer of hope for them. Maybe they could break free of their pasts and fears to evolve into something better. While I could not relate to their experiences I could feel sympathy for them. They have nothing left, except each other, and nowhere to go in the world except the circus. To a life of scrutiny and contempt for being different.

Her world building effort worked well. It all feels very gritty, like a spaghetti western. Unshaven, sweaty men with stubble, women in corsets and a lot grime and dust. We are dropped straight into that world. There is no background given. Instead Kim Lakin-Smith doles out information about her world and why it is in such a state whenever it fits with the story. This makes Cyber Circus feel genuine and the plot pace is smooth. Never did I get the feeling of info dumping. If anything, the way things were introduced made me more curious about the setting.

I did at times struggle to understand what happened. Her writing felt elusive and it was not immediately clear who said or did what. Luckily there is more to her writing than that. There is a touch of darkness to her prose and it's often raw and dirty which suits the world and its characters.

As far as I am concerned, Kim Lakin-Smith puts the 'punk' in steampunk. I wish there was more to read about Cyber Circus and its fabulous crew. A entertaining and engaging read, best enjoyed with a glass of bourbon to set the right mood. Any fan of dark fantasy or steampunk with a bit of bite will enjoy Cyber Circus. I certainly did. There was even a goosebumps moment.

Cyber Circus is published by NewCon Press and weighs in at 200 pages. Scheduled for release on the 30th of September 2011.

Recommendation: read

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