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The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus
Jonathan Green
Abaddon, 734 pages

Volume 1 Unnatural History
Volume 2 Leviathan Rising
Volume 3 Human Nature

The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus
Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green is a freelance writer, well known for his contributions to the Fighting Fantasy range of adventure gamebooks. He has also written for such diverse properties as Sonic the Hedgehog, Doctor Who, Star Wars and Games Workshop's worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. He has also written a number of non-fiction books including Match Wits with the Kids and What is Myrrh Anyway? Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.

Jonathan Green Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'You know what happened the last time I left you to your own devices. You were nearly drowned, blown up and eaten by a de-evolving professor of evolutionary biology.'
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Unnatural History introduces the author's dandy crime fighter, and a host of other improbably -- albeit entertainingly -- named characters. The plot begins to thicken with the murder of Professor Galapogos, in his office at the Natural History Museum. Ulysses Quicksilver is soon on the scene, and determines that the killer has also stolen the professor's difference engine; the steam-punk equivalent to a personal computer. Throughout this work the author amuses with alternate tech, such as Ulysses Quicksilver's personal communicator; a brass and leather mobile phone, an Overground train network in Londinium Maximus, mechanical bobbies, and Beefeater-drones with clockwork craniums. We soon learn that Magna Britannia is the ultimate superpower, dominating a world where the sun never set on the British Empire, and Queen Victoria is almost 160 years old. The hero of the title careens around like a pinball, making Jack Bauer look like a slacker as he uncovers a deadly plot by home grown terrorist group, the Darwinian Dawn. Among their number is Jago Kane, the Moriarty to Quicksilver's Holmes, and the two battle back and forth, in a suitably chaotic fashion. There is a lot going on, sometimes too much, and it is mostly entertaining stuff. The one thing that jarred slightly was the knowledge that some of what the Darwinian Dawn espouse is essentially correct. Magna Britannia is a splendid place only for those in Quicksilver's peer group and above, whose lifestyle is achieved on the backs of the downtrodden masses. This is, of course, entirely by design, and not without entertainment value of its own. But the end result is a lead character who is by nature aloof and standoffish, someone more at home in the Bullingdon Club than in the bar of the local tavern. It is this inbuilt elitism which makes it impossible for Quicksilver to be an action hero with the warmth and charisma of a James Bond. Indeed, while Quicksilver is a semi-secret agent for the British government, he works from a position of wealth and privilege, traveling in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Ulysses Quicksilver is undoubtedly a snob, and won't be everyone's mug of Earl Grey, but then, he isn't trying to be.

  'Set into the green leather top of the desk was a Babbage terminal finished in teak and brass, as well as a small cathode ray screen to the left and various other ports and slots for inserting mimetic keys and other such information storage devices.'  

Leviathan Rising is where the author hits his stride, imagineering a tale that crosses The Poseidon Adventure with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, folded into a murder mystery, with a nod to HAL from 2001. The plot begins with the maiden voyage of the Neptune, a vessel that is a fantastical cross between the Titanic and Captain Nemo's Nautilus. Amusing references abound, including the number two on the Neptune's bridge being a Mr. Riker, and the ship's on-board casino named the Casino Royale. When disaster strikes, the Neptune is suddenly on the way to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and comes to rest on the edge of the deepest abyss on the planet. Then the fun really begins as Ulysses Quicksilver helps to lead a small band of survivors to safety. Except, there can be no safe haven beneath the waves, because the survivors are being stalked by a gigantic genetically engineered squid, conceived as a bio-mechanical weapon in the Cold War between the British Empire and China. Meanwhile, a murderer walks among the group, picking them off one by one. This double bill of tension from within and without works very well, and even though some readers will guess what is going on well ahead of the reveal, the journey is such fun that it won't matter. There are quite a lot of characters to contend with, and inevitably some get a bit lost in the mix, becoming little more than Red Shirts. But, the main players certainly come across well, and Jonathan Green manages to flesh them out just enough to make us care. Ulysses Quicksilver himself is still a toff at large, and once again those of lower social standing do not get to play an equal part, but the real star here is the story behind the man-made Kraken. This has been well thought out, and has a terrific pay off. Leviathan Rising was, for me, streets ahead of its predecessor in terms of storytelling, and was just about perfectly paced.

  '"Breath like an unwashed abattoir, claws like kitchen knives," Ulysses put in, remembering the injuries he himself had suffered, "all the wit and charm of a Scotsman."'  

Human Nature is the third full novel in this collection, and begins with the mystery of the Whitby Mermaid, a stolen curiosity which everyone believes must be a fake. The story meanders along, seeming to be unsure of its direction, until the author decides to have fun re-imagining Hound of the Baskervilles and crossing it with The Island of Doctor Moreau. Out in the countryside, Ulysses Quicksilver and his manservant Nimrod soon find themselves hunted by a terrible hound known locally as the Barghest. From this point the story rattles along like a British Rail train with imminent brake failure, incorporating a desperate industrialist trying to escape the prison of his disease-riddled body, and a mad German vivisectionist. Some of what is portrayed is on the vomit-inducing side of gruesome, but definitely serves to keep attention glued to the page. I was a little distracted by the obviousness of Doktor Seziermesser being in the style of Josef Mengele, despite this being a world where the Nazis are only just beginning to become a threat. Also, the use of a miracle concoction which simultaneously prevents tissue rejection between species, relieves pain and promotes vitality, and allows the doktor's victims to be physically active less than an hour after extreme surgery. Okay, this is science fiction, and a suspension of disbelief is part of the ticket, but a little more credibility here would not have hurt. Fictional science, in my humble estimation, always needs a halfway plausible explanation, or it is reduced to the level of Potty Harry's magic wand. On the plus side, Ulysses Quicksilver develops as a character, and does not come out entirely unscathed, which definitely adds credibility. Although a little iffy in parts, Human Nature was a fun read, and advanced the overall plot of Pax Britannia.

The omnibus also contains a small selection of short stories featuring the eponymous hero. These are unrelated to any of the main plots, but interesting in their own right. The best of these is the novella sized "Vanishing Point" which shows what the author is capable of when he allows himself to write more tightly, and with a sharper clarity of focus.

In summary, The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus is a great way for readers wanting to begin their journey into Jonathan Green's alternate reality. At times it rambles and drifts, disappointing and thrilling by turns. But the ideas are vast and vastly entertaining. I can therefore recommend this title to readers blessed with 20-20 vision. Why that caveat? Because, as is often the case with omnibus titles, the publishers have crammed so much in by using a slightly smaller than usual font. If only the world of Pax Britannia were real, we could all apply for our steam-powered magnifying spectacles!

Copyright © 2011 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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