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The science-fiction subgenre of Victorian ""steampunk"" is well-established -- but what might McAuley's latest mind-boggling venture (Red Dust, 1994, etc.), which places the Industrial Revolution back in Renaissance Italy, be called? OIdmasterpunk? Anyhow, thanks to the rediscovery of Hero's steam turbine, invented in 130 B.C., and the impetus supplied by the discoveries of the Great Engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence has become a roaring, sparking, polluted industrial hub. The painters Raphael and Michelangelo oppose one another politically and artistically. The de' Medicis continue to scheme and plot, as does their mortal enemy, Savonarola. Meanwhile, apprentice artist Pasquale -- whose ultimate ambition is to paint an angel like none ever seen before -- teams up with reporter Niccol• Machiavegli to try to solve a sinister and inexplicable murder. On the body of the victim Pasquale finds a paper model of a flying device, while nearby lies a pile of smashed, oddly blackened glass fragments. During the course of a suitably devious and convoluted plot, Raphael is poisoned, Niccol• and Pasquale are abducted and tortured by black magicians, while Spanish agents are revealed as masterminding the murders. What Spain wants, of course, is the model flying machine; the glass fragments were stolen photographic plates bearing impressions of Leonardo's original plans. So in order to thwart Spain and set matters to rights, Pasquale must engage the attention of the Great Engineer himself, now enfeebled and reclusive. Minutely observed, with a fascinating m‚lange of historical and imaginary characters -- yet for all its hard work: dismal, forbidding, and tough to get involved with.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: AvoNova/Morrow