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What Ho, Automaton! by Chris Dolley
Review by Colleen Cahill
Book View Cafe Kindle Edition  ISBN/ITEM#: B004W0CR7S
Date: 09 April 2011 List Price $2.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Genre mixing has produced a lot of intriguing works, some serious and others more light hearted. What Ho, Automaton! by Chris Dolley is in the latter mode, with a fun blend of P.G. Wodehouse, steampunk and a touch of Sherlock Holmes. All this might seem a bit contrived, but Dolley is a master at capturing and blending all these elements, creating a most interesting read. More than fascinating, this work is also rip-roaring fun!

The bow to Wodehouse is evident from the get go, as the narrator of these stories is Reginald "Reggie" Worcester, whose domineering aunt has sent him to "extricate his cousin Herbert from an unsuitable engagement". It is not a simple extraction for Reggie, as the cousin is at Castle Crandal, where a former fiancée of Reggie's resides. While bemoaning his fate at the Drones Club, Reggie's friend Stiffy suggests the solution to his problem is Reeves, a "dash brainy automaton" who has been sitting in the club's attic for years. After consultation, Reggie takes Reeves with him to explore the situation.

Reeves proves to be as exceptional an automaton as advertized and has no trouble dealing with the issues of an angry ex-fiancée with a pack of hostile Pekingeses, a hostile cousin, and a seemingly perfect young woman who has a tattoo that reads "Made in Belgium". In the midst of all this, Reggie finds himself re-engaged to his former sweetheart and only Reeves has a way out; discover the truth about the "Colossus of Blackwater", an extraordinarily large pig.

This is just the first adventure Reggie and Reeves have in this book. In the second part, Reggie is facing an even more dreadful fate: his aunt has announced that it is time for him to marry. Rather than face "the four groomsmen of the Apocalypse", Reggie turns to Reeves, who is now his "gentleman's personal gentle-automaton". With sage advice, Reeves suggests Reggie go through the motions of searching for a wife, but sabotage his attempts at the same time. Trying various schemes to deter any romantic notions in young women ("garlic was a deb repellent of the first order") seems to work until Reggie meets up with Miss Emmaline Dreadnought, who is not put off by his ploys, but is also not interested in matrimony--she wants Reggie to investigate the disappearance of her friend Amelia Runcible.

When Reggie uncovers that other debutants have disappeared, he is sure "something is rummy in the state of Denmark Street" and he decides to do something about this: he will become a consulting detective. Using Sherlock Holmes as his model, Reggie is off on the chase, ready to face orangutans, eunuchs, or even "Lady Harcourt, the demon hostess" to find the missing debs.

There are plenty of steampunk elements in this tale, starting with the steam powered valet, Reeves. Our heroes do also run into Prometheans, constructs of flesh and blood, often made up of parts from different source sewn together by a mad scientist. People can also be modified, as has happened to Queen Victoria who now has steam powered legs. These are wonderful touches but where Dolley really excels is in capturing the atmosphere and humor of the Bertie and Jeeves stories. The mysterious plots and Reggie's good-natured naivety are as delightful as Reeves' calm and rational presence, all wrapped up in some memorable lines. Truly, this salute demonstrates how much love the author has for the original stories.

Any Wodehouse fan will want to grab a copy of this work, but even if you have never explored that world, What Ho, Automaton! is a fun and fascinating read. Highly recommended, take a spin in this steampunk hybrid and enjoy the ride!

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