Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk
Advance reading copy provided by publisher
I came across Schenk’s work through his illustrations, mainly the Pulp-O-Mizer cover generator (if you haven’t tried it, rectify this omission immediately). Given that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel; how would the style of Retropolis make the transition to a full-length piece?
A little background first. Retropolis is a highly-stylized retrofuturistic concept based in the adventuresome fun of old pulp sci-fi stories, and that light, tongue-in-cheek style is handled with great discipline and consistency. The rules, as I see them:
- Technology and science are fun, not evil. No Ewoks in Retropolis.
- Chrome glistening in the sun, not oily old hulks.
- It should all seem plausible based on 1940’s technology, with the addition of some big leaps (lighter-than-air metal, e.g.)
Given that by design the work is meant to remind us of slim, disposable volumes of tales featuring derring-do over character, how does this translate to a contemporary novel?
The answer: quite well.
Schenk presents a healthy smattering of fun characters, each with their own take on a world of impossible technologies. I mean, there’s a guy who keeps a slide rule in a hip holster — awesome. The humor is wit, not camp. As we slide steadily toward a world of AI, the moral question of the book (no spoilers) is timely and well-handled. And Schenk’s prose is absolutely lovely. This is an action-packed romp with more heart than grit.
If you’ve ever sat up watching old B-movies and laughed at the titles, go pick this book up.