SPSFC2 Semifinalist Review: The Diamond Device, by M.H. Thaung
Team Escapist, has decided to hold off on posting actual scores, but that doesn’t mean reviews aren’t coming. As said before, this review expresses my own opinion and not the opinions of other members of either Team Escapist, or other judges on other teams within the SPSFC2 competition.
The review …
I thought long and hard on this, and discussed it quite intensively with the other members of Team Escapist, until, eventually, I came to the conclusion that ‘The Diamond Device’ has enough elements to call itself scifi. Steampunk is scifi. That was not the issue. The issue was whether or not it was actually steampunk. Electricity is used more often than not, but a main component of steampunk is steam powered technology. Were there enough steampunk elements to classify it as such?
I don’t know. But for now, we’re going to say there is.
I felt ‘The Diamond Device’ was more of a heist story, a kidnapping story, a mystery wrapped in a mild steampunk setting, than anything else. ‘Technology changing the world’ was a sort of trigger to the events that set the story off, but after that, the technology really turned into a Mc Guffin. The story shows some repercussions of this new diamond technology- less workers, more machines doing industry, but the overall theme of the book had nothing to do with the actual technology- it could have been the Maltese Falcon they were all chasing, it wouldn’t have changed the story.
For these reasons I felt the book didn’t meet a market-genre demand. Those who want steampunk might be disappointed. Those who want scifi might be disappointed. But those who want a 19th century mystery, probably won’t be disappointed. So for these reasons, my score is lowered (by like 0.5) for not meeting expectations of a genre; be it scifi or steampunk. Otherwise, a really, really good book. I enjoyed it immensely for what it was. Characters, setting, prose, dialogue; all good and all compelling.
The author demonstrates a very strong grasp of ‘show don’t tell’. I learned who the characters were based on their actions and decisions instead of being told who they were. And the characters were complex and well-rounded, displaying both good and bad traits that made them all the more realistic. Very three dimensional. The world building was exceptional as well (with the caveat of there not being enough scifi or steampunk). It felt rich, lived in and full of history, which thankfully, the author didn’t feel the need to explain in chapter after chapter of boring backstory. I felt that I knew the world without having it shoved down my throat. A tricky task for writers, that this author executed well.
There was always a sense of urgency, and the characters held agency, which moved the story along at a proper pace with highs and lulls. Nothing felt extraneous; meaning, the story stuck to its story. The author didn’t come across as someone trying to prove ‘what they knew’, other than being able to tell a good story. Which kept dialogue, character motivations and plot progression streamlined and focus. There were no tangents that I had to find my way back from.
Overall, a really good book. It just needs to find it’s place, its genre, and embrace it in order to make it an excellent book.