Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: The Gunfighter and The Gear-head by Cassandra Duffy

The Gunfighter and The Gear-Head by Cassandra Duffy is a very good book. Also a unique, rollercoaster of a story that's nearly as fun to describe as it is to read. How would I describe it? Well, it's a post-apocalyptic, alien invasion, cowboy, steampunk, erotica dystopian adventure.

Imagine a western set in the remnants of civilisation, after a bunch of aliens destroyed most of everything, and the struggles of the survivors to get through each day, figure out what the future might look like, and survive both the Slarks and other people. All seen while following around a kinky couple consisting of an infatuated genius and a crazy redhead. Does that help?

Humanity is fractured. We only really hear about the United States, as they have no way of contacting anywhere else, but entire regions are blasted and dead, others are Slark territory (four armed lizard aliens), or contested with them, and the human settlements range from the grim outpost of Tombstone to the City of Las Vegas (now back on its feet to a large degree under Lazy Raven rule).

Set around nowish, four years after the Slarks invaded Earth, and the two species mutually devasted each other, leaving both sides in a tussle for territory, scrabbling to piece together ruined tech and wipe out the other side first. While there's a steampunkish element, mostly evoked by Gieo's clothing and cobbled up tech (I never did figure out where all her outfits were coming from), it increasingly moves into post-apocalyse territory, with all the tech and fuel being scavenged from the past, or the enemy.
The Slarks are the clear aggressors here, by the way, and the only direct contact we have with them is when people are running from, or killing, them. They're obviously intelligent, but basically just 'the enemy'.

Gieo, a scientist lesbian geek, whose family is dead and once had a promising career through university and beyond, is one of our two main characters. She's been holed up in a mysterious fortress for the past few years, creating airships and trying to map out and fly past the Slark anti-aircraft defences. Oh, she also built herself some company in the form of a charming dragonfly-like AI called Ramen. Not only has she never made much contact with people, but she's probably the only person flying in the whole country. Sadly, her ships get shot down every time...

This time she's picked up by psychotic and gorgeous Fiona, the only female Hunter in Tombstone, and an impulsive and violent killer. Oh, and ex-lingerie model. Though she never coped too well with that lifestyle... Fiona's thrown off-guard by Gieo's instant passionate adoration, but ends up falling for her as well, and protecting her.

While it starts off slow, with Gieo settling into Tombstone and jumping headfirst into local politics, the story somewhat explodes into wider event territory, but still holds tight to the tricky and tempestuous and kinky romance between Fiona and Gieo, so it never really wanders, even while taken unexpected turns.

The interesting plot dynamics come from the various human factions. From the surly, violent Hunters who made up Tombstone, to the crazed cultists, to the Lazy Ravens who move in and take over, and the key players dancing around in the middle of them all.  And the relationship between our two leads, of course.

This is one of those stories were describing most of the events would just make it sound silly, but it's pulled off really well. For example, the blind cultists were the most aggravating, pitable creatures - turns out the Slarks were superstitious about blind people, so they all drank methanol, went mostly blind, and fried their brains. And then went out and tried to attack people, for various plot or insanity related reasons. Which was by turns, terrifying or pathetic. And there's the Lazy Ravens - a mob-style organisation of women who are slowly trying to take over civilisation with themselves at the top of the heap (restoring civilisation in their own ideal along the way), dress like prostitutes, set up old-west style brothels, end up being viciously effective fighters, and take places over. The ultimate goal being to wipe out the Slarks and reestablish humanity under the semi-benevolent rule of the Lazy Ravens.

There was some interesting diversity in the main and secondary characters - they're a strong cast of players, each different from the next. The tyrannical and manipulative Mayor Zeke, smart-weird Korean Gieo (not her real name), violently gorgeous Fiona, manipulative and seductive Veronica, nice-guy Danny, jealous weasel Rawlins, and chirpy little Ramen (who wants a puppy!) all come to life and help set fire to the story. The background forces of soldiers, cultists, Slarks, and gang invaders are all pretty generic though!

The only bits that were an issue story-wise for me were pretty minor, but I'll mention them anyway.

1. The very beginning, there was just way too much in the way of run on sentences trying to describe all the equipment... which was all broken a page later anyway. The feel of it was slightly different to the rest of the book, and harder to get through.

2. The fact that Gieo just happened to have studied, idolised, stalked Fiona pre-invasion, and so just happened to be rescued by her idol. Although it did help move the story along, as a sudden crush out of nowhere may have seemed equally odd.

3. Minor editing/grammar/spellcheck issues. Pretty minor, just often enough for me to notice them, and usually of the 'word corrected to a different word' type (e.g. on for in, not for naught). Not story-breaking, but I needed a third issue!

The mature content:
Excessive violence, usually of the 'entire chest blown away by large gun' variety, and frequent and explicit sexual encounters. The relationship is definitely kinky, starting quite mildly with spanking and mutual frustration, then moving into BDSM territory, collaring and a general heating up all around. Fiona and Gieo are decidedly in love, but that doesn't stop of Fiona's past lovers turning up and increasing the tension levels.

The violence bothered me more, but this is definitely a book to pick up for erotic encounters. Or avoid, if you're worried about someone reading over your shoulder.

The Gunfighter and The Gear-Head is currently only available as an eBook. It can be download from Amazon and Smashwords.

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