Previously I’ve talked about my previous novel attempts, difficult revisions and cutting, actually getting work done, reviewed Low Town and Alloy of Law, and finally about writing knowing full well you are going to revise.
Spirit of the Century is a successful and well-regarded gaming line done by Evil Hat Productions. Only being vaguely aware of the original game, I believed it was about airships during the turn of the century time. When given the opportunity to review a complimentary advanced review copy of Spirit of the Century original fiction by Chuck Wendig, I leapt at the opportunity. I was curious how I would perceive it knowing little about the license. Simply put, I was impressed. With Wendig’s mixing of pulpy goodness and a dash of panache, he effortlessly cooks up an exciting story set in the Spirit of the Century universe that stands on its own without knowing the original book.
Dinocalypse Now takes place on earth like our own, but subject to every zany pulp trope you have ever read about. Dinosaurs, primitive cultures, talking apes, wonky technology, magic, time-travel, and practically anything else you can think of exists alongside a timeline and setting that (mostly) mirrors our own. As the title implies, the particular threat of this novel is the sudden prehistoric influx of apocalyptic proportions. Once I fully immersed myself in a setting that relies on the Spirit of the Century background, I found myself treated to a real page-turner. There are some elements of the setting where I was left to assume or infer background information (whether that’s due to my ignorance with the property or the author’s choice, I am unsure). Regardless, the setting is whimsical without being lazy with the right amount of exposition balanced against assumption to keep the story snappy and the plot crisp.
The story follows a small group of “Centurions”, the heroes of the setting all born in the year 1900, as they attempt to thwart a dinosaur invasion in the early 20th century. In some ways, that’s all you need. Wendig is careful to introduce individual character conflicts and motivations with each new character in focus. Make no mistake, the novel lives up to its name and delivers a dinocalypse, but it also makes the most out of every word by creating compelling characers very quickly to raise the stakes of the action. The story does rely on a few improbable plans, but ultimately these feel true to the genre and the story. Given the scope of the work, there’s not much else you can ask for. However, there were a few times where I wished the novel was a bit more in depth.
I give this novel a B grade. The story is shorter than a lot of today’s fantasy and science fiction and for me I think the brevity did impact the robustness of the story. However, the novel skillfully walks a tightrope of throwing you into the action verses contextualizing the setting. Brisk, enjoyable and entertaining I would definitely recommend this to fans of the author or the setting.
What I Took Away from this Book
Wendig writes using simile and metaphors so frequently and skillfully, he’s almost a victim of his own abilities. Early on, I kept noticing and admiring his use of them, but as the novel progressed I began to expect his clever wordplay and almost take for it granted. Well-crafted simile and metaphors really have a way of spicing up exposition and explanation and even though its a personal weakness of mine I have to take more chances on using them if I want to get better at spicing up my own writing.
If you are interested in the book, you can get your own copy by backing its Kickstarter, as well as helping to fund sequels and tie-ins.