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Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett
Review by Ernest Lilley
Abrams Image Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780810989504
Date: 01 October 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Boilerplate is an absolutely wonderful tale of steampunk robotics realized through the artistry of his true creators, authors and comic book artists Paul Ginan and Anina Bennett. By inserting their Victorian Automation into photographs and drawings from the period, they've brought to life both Professor Campion's wonderful creation and a rich period of American history. Why can I never find a Hugo Award Ballot when I need one?

Robo-SteamPunk. Boilerplate is a (fictional) robot built in 1893 by Professor Archibald Campion to prevent the deaths of humans in the conflicts between nations. Boilerplate's exploits are presented here in a historical coffetable book format, chronicling his exploits from his introduction at the World's Colombian Exhibition in Chicago to his eventual mysterious disappearance on the battlefield during WWI. The authors, graphic artists both, have used their talents brilliantly to insert the robot seamlessly into all manner of historical images, with the result that a fully documented and (nearly) believable alternate history emerges. Though the story is told as documentary, rather than as a fictional narrative, the heroic nature of Boilerplate is clear from the first, and the reader has no doubt but that he had every right to his place in history, whether standing with the other Rough-Riders next to Teddy Roosevelt, or charging into machine gun fire with Doughboys in the trench warfare of WWI.

Comic book artists and authors of Boilerplate Paul Ginan and Anina Bennett, have created a brilliant work of fictional history, which I can't quite bring myself to label alternate. Yes, Boilerplate was clearly a fictional character, which is part of why he works so well here. While alternate history seeks to answer the question, "What would have happened if...," this book has a different goal in mind.

As Paul Ginan said in an interview (CBR News, Guinan and Bennett on "Boilerplate" by Shaun Manning, Staff Writer), "My secret wish for this book is that it be used as a teaching supplement in history classes. With, you know, the obvious caveat that the robot part is a fiction."

That caveat serves the secret wish extremely well. I'm not a fan of alternative history, in part because I've never been especially good at the non-alternative kind. Too much time spent looking forward, I suspect. But Boilerplate's adventures pull my attention to historical events in a way that they could not by themselves, and separating the fanciful from the factual is as simple as editing the (apologies to Boilerplate) robot out of the picture.

The authors may have created an entirely new technique, if not genre, and we salute both them and their heroic creation for the good works they have performed.

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