Homunculus by James P Blaylock

Rating 8.8/10
The universe is marvellous, the characters even greater.

A mysterious airship orbits through the foggy skies above Victorian London. It’s terrible secrets are sought by many, including: The Royal Society, a fraudulent evangelist, a fiendish vivisectionist, an evil millionaire and an assorted group led by the scientist and explorer Professor Langdon St. Ives. Can St. Ives keep the alien homunculus out of the claws of the villainous Ignacio Narbondo?

Titan Books released the newest addition to the Narbondo Series early in January this year called The Aylesford Skull, which I read with a certain gusto. Titan Books had planned to release two more books in the Narbondo series. I initially thought that that The Aylesford Skull would make up a new series but after a few pages in it says April 4 of the year of 1875. I quickly recalled the date of the Aylesford Skull which is 1883. Then I found out that Homunculus was the second book in the series, and that James P. Blaylock won the Philip K. Dick award in 1988 for this book. Homunculus was first published in 1986.

Similarly to The Aylesford Skull, or I should say the Aylesford Skull is like Homunculus, is the way that James P. Blaylock writes. It is written with a definite flair. Forget a bit of the fast pacing, full tilt action and steam hissing kind of steampunk. Instead think of a more classic way, his use of words really make you feel like you’re in the 1900’s, it adds - taken together with the characters - a definite flair to the book, styling it all in a gentlemanly Victorian setting.

Here I could have said, again you follow the adventures of Professor/explorer Langdon St. Ives, but actually it is just starting in this series. The events that happen in Homunculus take place a few years earlier than The Aylesford Skull. Just have to throw away the things that happened in The Aylesford Skull. I was actually expecting for a follow-up but this proved a false assumption. So let’s rewind.

St. Ives does show his eccentricity early on. He has other plans that he would like to carry out in Homunculus. He is planning on completing his spaceship. Yes, a spaceship in 1875! Homunculus shows some over the top bizarre ideas that, in my opinion, were perhaps not thought off in 1986. Featuring zombie ghouls and aliens. For its time I do think that this book must have run way ahead of its competitors. And even now in 2013, it still delivers a very unique story. But back to the book again. There are several key players in Homunculus, both from the perspectives of the good guys and that off the bad guys. And both parties have an interest in a specific items. Langdon St. Ives is one of the good guys, though his plans are completely different when the book starts, he is drawn in by his society and one other event into the fray and now also has some interest in what is soaring above London. Next to him you have other similarly eccentric members of the Trismegistus Club who St. Ives helps in their cause but you also got the bad guys. For starters the hunchbacked Ignacio Narbondo. Man I love this guy. But his character is more or less made by the way that Blaylock writes up his persona. This actually counts for every other character as well that Blaylock uses to tell the story. All the characters are shown in a bit of an over the top romp kind of way. Where they display stereotypical traits that you associate with either the bad guys and good guys. Just a highlight. When a reanimation is carried out by Ignacio, he just leaves the curtains open for bystanders to look through or the good guys watch through a nearby window what the bad guys are plotting, it is by going in this direction that Homunculus stands out above many other books that have been published in the recent years.

Homunculus is a smart and witty book that takes place in an unique Victorian London. Some readers might find the pacing of this book a bit odd, and this is agreeable. It is not that the writing is out of date or anything it is just that you do not encounter this writing that often. Even looking at The Aylesford Skull I must admit that it reads a bit easier than Homunculus. But the reduced pacing does not take away that Homunculus was way ahead of its time with combining so bizarre fantasy elements in a great steampunk blend. It is completely deserved that Homunculus won the Philip K. Dick award. The universe is marvellous, the characters even greater. Just a small stress again: Langdon St. Ives and Ignacio Narbondo’s character are just so grand in the way they display the gentlemanly English fashion and the stereotypical good guy / bad guy behaviour. This series is great stuff.

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