Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Doomsday Machine The Doomsday Machine
by Catharine Webb

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson
Jacqui Smith
Katie Boyle

The book is subtitled An Astounding Horatio Lyle Adventure. It is set in 1865 and the hero, scientist and inventor Horatio Lyle, must battle the mysterious Tseiqin and the strange, mystical enigma they represent.

The novel is set firmly in the steampunk genre. I found it very hard to read. The prose is murky and muddy and author's consistent refusal to identify the characters lends a distancing effect that I found quite alienating. I simply cannot identify with a character whose name I do not know. The whole story was vague, confusing and impossible to relate to.

Apparantly there are other Horatio Lyle adventures. I will not be reading any of them.

-- Alan Robson

Steampunk, urban fantasy set in the Age of Steam, is a relatively small subgenre, mainly because it’s not exactly easy to write. Firstly, the writer has to know their way around the era, and has also to acquire the proper literary tone, or else, frankly, it simply won’t do.

Catherine Webb’s Horatio Lyle adventures have yet to be listed in Wikipedia’s relatively short List of Steampunk Works, but they certainly deserve to be there. She managed to grab me right from the very first sentence, and for some days, I wandered around shoving the book under the noses of various persons, up to and including the local children’s librarian, and getting them to read it. You see, if there is one thing I like to come across, it’s a writer who can actually write, and Catherine Webb is one of those, with a fine gift for prose, and a fair talent for character and plot besides.

Horatio Lyle is a gentleman, a scientist, and something of an investigator. For some strange reason, he reminds me somewhat of Dr Who. Maybe it’s the quirky Englishness of the chap. In which case, his young friend Tess has to be Ace, right down to her fondness for explosions. Anyhow, there is a dastardly plot to create a marvellous machine that will be utterly destructive to the elf-like Tseiqin. Which, of course, must be foiled by Horatio Lyle and his young assistants. Great fun. And best of all, Catherine Webb is barely out of her teens, and already she writes this well….

One can only wonder what she’ll be writing in ten years time.

-- Jacqui Smith

I liked the idea of this book when I read about it. There’s this Victorian scientist, see, and his two youthful sidekicks, and they have the save an entire mysterious race from mass murder.

I have always enjoyed Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries, and I enjoy reading about how science and believing in science have affected everyday people’s lives. So I was hopeful I would enjoy this, the third book in a series.

As it turns out, the author is extremely young. This is her seventh published book, and she is currently a university student, having first been published at age fourteen. This relative lack of experience showed through in her writing style. She handles many of the basics well, but there are two exceptions.

First, and by far worst, she doesn’t just spit things out. There are comparisons to other situations, geographical comparisons, reasons this should be important but isn’t, reasons this shouldn’t be important but is, discussions of the constable’s lunch yesterday…In other words, her descriptions are exceptionally long-winded. I’m guessing she’s trying to be descriptive. Unfortunately it doesn’t work.

Second, her characters don’t have much depth to them. Horatio Lyle and his protégées act as they might be expected to act, and we’re introduced to the family of one of the protégées, but I don’t feel the characters were raised much above the typical inventor, apprentice inventor, and thief.

As the author is young, there is a possibility that she might refine her technique as she grows older and later books might be more enjoyable. However, I’m not particularly interested in finding out.

-- Katie Boyle

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