An alternative Indianapolis where automatons strain the workforce, a caste system freezes a person’s prospects, and steam is everywhere. The physical layout of the city parallels the hierarchy of the structure, and a leadership that is tied to all manner of controls, from the propaganda machining media to the privatized police force and the secret white supremacist societies. It’s a place that bypassed the Civil Rights Movement and all advancements in equality creep from Emancipation. There is an underground that has been making waves, gaining momentum, and may be working on action.
Sleepy is a young black man who works in the sewers by day and spits rhymes on the weekend. He’s content to live in his cell of a townhouse and smoke weed… But when a police raid on the club he performs at sends him on the run, something may become sparked in Sleepy. His co-patriot is a sudden acquaintance named (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah, who pushes Sleepy from words to action. Well… it might have been that and also the cops trying to chase him down.
Sophine Jefferson is an Oxford-trained (and expelled), mixed-race scientist who is brought up in the elite air of business and government. She is plagued by the condescension of men and the thought of her colleagues trying to steal her ideas. The machinations of the corporate scions and she is girl who is caught in the middle. After her experiments in necropsy and reanimation get her kicked out of school, her father’s main competitor gives her a position in her lab. For she wants to stand on her own but father won’t let her… until her father is poisoned. Then Sophine receives some help from a unexpected source.
Pimp My Airship throws the contemporary themes of racism, news media, corporate greed, incarceration, and more… into a tale of rich invention. Although I did not always fully grasp the world building, I had a good idea of the vision Broaddus was putting together. A steampunky Indianapolis that is ready to blow. An underworld of graft and protectionism that is in league with the unwritten rules of the elite. The characters are well-rounded and realistic in that they move about the moral spectrum as any person would. From Sleepy’s realization to Sophine’s drive to demand a voice, these characters are fun to follow. Another thing I liked was Broaddus’s use of symbolism in regards to the character’s names. Sleepy, Knowledge Allah, and Sophine all evolve at different points, either during the course of the narrative or before and have changed his or her name to match that evolution.
My criticism with the book lies in the pacing and the world building. In a book with two points of view, the reader can be fairly certain that the two threads will somehow interact or meet at some point. Will they be allies or adversaries? There’s a great mystery in the reveal… and when this happens, the action moves… it really hums. But the beginning of the book starts a bit slowly as the characters are introduced and a the reader gets a feel for the setting. The world building is done through excerpts from the local propaganda rag, dialogue, and author description. Yet, I never felt like I had a firm grasp of the makeup of the government of Indianapolis vs. that of the greater United States.
A very good character-driven steampunk novel filled with gangsters, greed, and all means of gluttony. Pimp My Airship adds depth and complexity to any already imaginative genre.
4 out of 5 stars
Thank you to Apex Publications and the author for an advanced copy for review.