Lingane's first installment in his YA Tesla Evolution series is a funny and propellant post-apocalyptic novel about an orphan named Sebastian on the run from cyborgs. And while the story doesn't veer far from the tropes of a steampunk coming-of-age novel, the characters are well developed and have heart, the prose is solid, and the dialogue is charming and witty.
Date Submitted: June 06, 2016
A thousand years in the future, we follow Sebastian, a young teenager living in the quiet and rural remains of a pocket of civilization after an ancient nuclear apocalypse. As a strange sickness takes his father and consumes his mother, he is left in servitude of his selfish aunt and cut off from the brilliant mind of a teacher, sharing with him a love of near-legendary clockwork and steam power of the past. His luck changes – not all for the better – on finding an envelope addressed to him in a locked jewelry box, and a group of black-suited half-machine assassins set out for his violent termination. What follows is an adventure that pits steampunk against cyberpunk in a Mad Max-like young adult science-fantasy world of Tesla by Mark Lingane, the first book of theTesla series.
Tesla is a sci-fi geek’s dream incarnate, pitting two popular genres together in the apocalyptic setting of two similar, but worlds apart, techno-revivalist societies of the future. While the typical refined and clean essences of each genre aren’t present – with little in the way of wholly sophisticated technology or culture on either side – the thematic death-match is something a lot of typical fans can enjoy. If you ever thought you’d like to see a mix of the three settings in a young adult-styled adventure novel, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. The book has some interesting ideas and a cool take on the tropes of all of its base genres that fits them together as a cohesive, if starkly contrasted whole.
After a somewhat mundane intro, the novel quickly becomes full of technical and even quasi-magical substance that would make Star Trek blush, but also settles into a leisurely pace without getting boring or devoid of intrigue, with characters who are in general interesting if not particularly complex either in their personality or their motivations overall. Sebastian really feels like a perfect character for a younger teenager to put themselves into his shoes, and his personal journey is a decent coming of age tale, albeit on an unusual background of a Dickensian home life, magic powers and killer cyborgs.
The book has its flaws, mostly in the jarring transitions between scenes that leave you wondering what you missed until you go back a paragraph, as well as the sometimes dry prose between the more interesting exchanges and moments that can add to the confusion as a lack of necessary details blur the story elements together. There are some absolute home runs in memorable lines and some extremely witty naming and detailing, but there also are very notable instances where an idea just didn’t work as well as it could have, such as a deliberately confusing naming choice a few chapters in.
Lingane is an able writer and by no means a novice, with an established niche in the strange and novel genre mash-ups with a bent on the science fiction side. Tesla is another in the line of these works and despite its flaws it is certainly an interesting read worth a look if only out of curiosity for how the pieces fit together in the final product. If the idea seems interesting, the sequel, Decay, promises to be a darker and more complex progression on the story and the world and may make this first entry worth your time just to fully appreciate the second installment. Overall, it is a niche read with all the benefits and drawbacks of being exactly what the author wanted it to be.
Sebastian has lost both his parents. His father died of a mysterious wasting disease whereas his mother is... well...just lost. The only thing he has he has to remember his mother by is her note telling him to go to the mysterious Steam Academy. However, first he has to find it in a futuristic Australia without reliable transport but with dangerous cyborg warriors. What's worse, despite fighting humans in general for thousands of years, the cyborgs now seem to have turned their attention and energy to killing Sebastian in particular. What's he done to deserve that? More to the point, whatever he's done, how can he survive it?
The prolific Aussie writer Mark Lingane turns to YA science fiction and, in the process, produces his best novel yet. To begin with the narrative may be a little clunky but hold tight; Mark has a gift for dialogue and action so, once that starts, the excitement rips and there's no looking back.
A tesla is not only a unit of magnetic flux density (ok - I googled that!) it's also Sebastian. I'll leave you to find out how he discovers this but en route we're shown some interesting, well-explained physics that sits well in a very accessible plot. (And I speak as someone who failed every physics exam I ever took!)
The main hero may be male, but don't get the idea that this is a novel that excludes the other half of the world. Sebastian makes a friend in the feisty Melanie, a girl slightly older than him who would give any action hero or baddie a run for their money. The only thing is that Seb is still at the 'all girls are yuck stage' but if anyone can make him change his mind it will be knife-wielding, weight hurling Melanie.
Mark likes to pay homage to past examples of the written and visual arts and 'Tesla' gives him another opportunity. The cyborgs remind us ('us' being the older generation in this case) of the Terminator and Mad Max movies, while Seb's nasty Aunt Ratty is a tribute to Roald Dahl that the young readers it's aimed at will recognise from their past. Then there are nods to The Wizard of Oz, Oliver Twist and probably a lot more waiting for the more observant among us.
Mark also believes that writing should be as much fun as reading and so we can almost hear him giggle as we meet Merv and Sheila and Marv and Shirl. This may be a world Post-Reckoning but these are people who prove that the Australian way of life will survive, ice cold one in the eskie and all. (Your turn to google!)
Once we're in the flow, Tesla may be considered a good read by 12 year olds (and perhaps more mature 11s) as well as teens in general. If I'm anything to go by, there may even be an adult or two who may 'borrow' a copy (just to check it on behalf of the youngsters, of course). We may have to hone our borrowing technique though as this may not be the last time we have to use it - there are enough loose ends to warrant a sequel and that '1' in the title kinda hints that its heart will go on. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!)
A great book that should satisfy the author’s desire to wean a generation off games modules on to novels of this nature
It’s billed as Cyberpunk vs Steampunk.
For the uninitiated that means its characters living in a darkly frightening, futuristic world dominated by computer technology versus a genre of science fiction that typically features steam powered machinery rather than advanced technology.
Set a thousand years hence, nuclear capability has finally achieved its intended purpose and half of the northern hemisphere has gone missing.
To achieve his aim, it was essential for author, Mark Lingane to create a story that was short, sharp, constantly evolving with ridiculous amounts of action where no one important ever seems to get hurt, and make fun of current pop culture, social media, adults and technology.
Mark has achieved this. He is an extremely skilled writer who can and does frequently cross over into new and exciting genres.
From a conventional, hard working background, Sebastian, the hero of the story, finds himself being pursued by black-clad cyborgs. These beings were born as humans, but have had machines and technology added to enhance their effectiveness. They are being controlled by a central, well hidden, machine.
Sebastian is befriended by a strange bunch headed by characters Merv and Marv, who quickly become aware that he actually possesses fairly strong, if unpredictable, powers.
Sebastian becomes increasingly under threat from the cyborgs and ultimately it is left to a dying girl named Melanie to save him.
The characters, dialogue and unforeseen happenings throughout the story are extremely quirky and unusual. There are times when it appears that Mark Lingane is re-writing the very concept of a novel, which I suppose is what he set out to achieve.
Even though the story was clearly not created for an old man like me, I absolutely loved it, and I know that his actual target audience will too.