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Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis Paperback – 27 Nov 2018
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"Grab your ray pistol and get ready, because Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is Bradley Schenck's delightful, loving tribute to a future often imagined yet never realized. Welcome to Retropolis!" --Dayton Ward, New York Times bestselling author of Star Trek: Elusive Salvation
"Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is the novel you've been waiting for -- you just didn't know it.... This novel gave me a happy buzz." --F. Paul Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Repairman Jack
"Robotastic." --Lawrence M. Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
"Like a madcap retro-tech collaboration by Terry Pratchett and Isaac Asimov. I loved it!" --Jamies Cambias, author of A Darkling Sea
"Funny and action-packed." --Allen Steele, author of Arkwright
"A madcap mash-up of retro-sf, full of fearless heroes and heroines dashing about like Flash Gordon meets the Keystone Cops." --Matthew Hughes
"One of the real treats of the year." --Toronto Star
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Top international reviews
The best thing about this is that it’s an actual great adventure story, populated by a host (perhaps slightly too large a host; some of them get lost in the shuffle for various periods of time) of delightful, albeit not especially deep, characters working to defeat the inevitable Supervillain; his identity is known from the beginning, though the exact nature of his Dastardly Plot isn’t. They are able to do so because, like many Supervillains, this one is intelligent without being imaginative; he thinks, so to speak, in straight lines. He also, essentially, works alone. The Good Guys, by contrast, have imagination to spare—they think in curves and dodecahedrons and tesseracts—and are able and willing to combine their wide variety of individual quirky talents to, ultimately, devastating effect.
Other reviewers’ comparisons to Futurama and Terry Pratchett (The Amazing Maurice, say) seem apt, Futurama perhaps especially. I very much hope that there will be more Retropolis adventures!
I love steampunk. (No, this is not steampunk; just hear me out, OK?) I love the whole concept of a world where science reality continued as it was in around 1870 or so: no electricity, but steam and clockwork and Darwinism not thoroughly understood and ether! Wow. It's just so fun to live in those worlds while I read.
Now, Schenck has done a similar thing with his retro-sci-fi. It's sort of "rocketpunk," if you will. His premise for all of his books and much of his (fantastic) artwork is this: What if science had gone on the way it was imagined in the action/adventure and sci-fi stories of the 1930s? Thus he creates "stories of the retro-future." In Slaves, for example, he has characters use an iPad-like device called an Info-Slate -- but there's no high-speed internet; there isn't even dial-up. Instead, the information is routed via a switchboard, where humans (or enslaved robotic persons) must plug and unplug different connections, the way phone operators did for decades. It's just so amusing to see the world he creates.
The plot is crazy fun, well-paced, and full of little twists. The characters are surprisingly well-developed. The artwork is fabulous! And the humor! Oh my. It's like reading Douglas Adams, but set decades earlier.
If you have a good sense of humor and like sci-fi, pick this one up. You'll be glad you did.
And even if you're not a sci-fi person (it's really not my favorite genre, but I own all of Schenck's books), give this a try anyway. It's more Jetson's than Star Wars.
Oh, just go buy a copy; you'll love it. :D
Meanwhile, humans do other work. Everyone relies on InfoSlates, which are a lot like our phones, except perhaps standardized more at the size of an iPad. That's my impression of them, anyway. Another difference between InfoSlates and either iPads or phones is that they rely on human switchboard operators.
Nola Gardner is a switchboard operator, and she and her sister operators (remember, think 1930s rather than present day) abruptly find themselves out of jobs after a surprise efficiency review. What they can't seem to find out is who replaced them.
Rusty is one of the aforementioned intelligent robots, who on his way home from work one day finds a female robot with no legs lying in the street. She doesn't seem to talk, which is awkward, but he takes her back to his apartment, determined to find out where she belongs.
Nola persuades her coworkers to pool their severance pay and hire adventurer Dash Kent, who is also a plumber who lives in Rusty's building. He's got a great track record rescuing cats from the temple of a weird cult on Mars...
Soon an unexpected and unlikely group have formed to fight an unseen, devious enemy.
Rocket cars! Private rocket ships! Robots! Evil industrialists!
And all that is before the world's tiniest giant robot shows up and starts wreaking havoc.
Schenck camptures this retro future perfectly. It's goofy, it's exciting, it's joyful.
Don't go looking for science-fictional plausibility here; that would be missing the point. This is an adventure in the 1939 World's Fair's future, not ours, and it's a lot of fun.
I received an advance reader's copy of this book, and am reviewing it voluntarily.