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The Baby Killers
Jay Lake
PS Publishing, 68 pages

The Baby Killers
Jay Lake
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2010 books are Pinion from Tor Books, The Specific Gravity of Grief from Fairwood Press, The Baby Killers from PS Publishing, and The Sky That Wraps from Subterranean Press. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and has been a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.

Jay Lake Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Trial of Flowers
SF Site Review: Rocket Science
SF Site Review: All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories
SF Site Review: Greetings from Lake Wu

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

The official catalogue description of Jay Lake's new short novel The Baby Killers refers to the book as a restaging of mankind's fall from grace in the form of a steampunk fable. In my opinion, any deeper symbolic meaning in this book takes a back seat to the fact that it is simply a hell of a good read. There is more story and setting stuffed into this short volume than in many full length novels I've read. Reminding me a little of a lost episode from Paul Di Filippo's Steampunk Trilogy, it features that perfect mix of weird technology and equally weird Fortean history that makes the genre such a pleasure at its best.

The setting for The Baby Killers is an alternate Philadelphia that serves, just after the beginning of the 20th century, as the seat of power of the British Empire in the Americas. In the opening pages of the book we are given a glimpse of mad scientist, Dr. Scholes, creating the titular man-machine (or perhaps more accurately, infant-machine) hybrids; then we are whisked away on a quick but picturesque tour of this grimy, weird city strewn with pneumatic tubes and hissing steam. Almost as soon as he paints the anachronistic landscape in the reader's mind, he puts a host of memorable characters to work wreaking havoc on it. In essence, the city exists as a vivid backdrop to a bizarre battle royale.

Set against each other are such figures as the Gollinoster, a sewer dwelling protector of women; the aforementioned mad scientist and his six-legged, literally baby-faced killer robot; an ancient vampire; a Doukhobor "princess" who harbours great power and the very real, very historical La Pétomane. This last is re-imagined as not just a famous "flatulist" but also a secret agent of the French government. Each of these glorious monsters is expertly given a set of clearly fleshed-out -- though sometimes laughable -- motivations and set against each other by the author.

Even with these colourful players, The Baby Killers would not be half so entertaining if not for the style in which it was written, full of eloquence and pseudo-Victorian flourishes. Jay Lake foreshadows all the action like a cackling villain twirling his moustache. It was impossible for me not to fall in love with a book full of statements like this one, placed throughout at opportune moments: "Follow the tale, loyal audience, and be rewarded with blood, brass and smoking machine oil in quantities enough to float even the corpse of a king."

The Baby Killers is easily one of the most entertaining books I've read this year. Lovers of steampunk and alternate history alike will be thrilled by this imaginative offering.

Copyright © 2010 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer, geek and Voluptuary living in Austin, Texas. Kit's poetry has appeared in Aberrant Dreams and Oysters and Chocolate. He can be found online at approximately 8,000 words, his homepage.

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