Geek Book Review: The Aylesford Skull

What exactly is “steampunk”?  To be honest, after reading The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock, I still didn’t know.  Blaylock is credited as…and proclaims himself to be…a steampunk legend.  Hell, it says those very words right beneath his name on the cover of the book.  At the outset of the novel, I had a vague understanding of what steampunk is supposed to be.  Yet, after slogging through the 425 pages of metallic copper colored font, I was no more versed in the genre than I had been at the beginning.  Alas, I was forced to look up the definition on Wikipedia just to get a sense of what I was supposed to have been immersed in.  Apparently, if you write a fictional story, set it in the Victorian era, have your characters use or come in contact with some contraptions that may or may not be a little too advanced for the time period, you’ve just written yourself a steampunk story!  By this definition I would consider many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories to be of the steampunk genre.  However, The Aylesford Skull is in NO WAY as entertaining or as well thought out as a Conan Doyle story.  Here is a synopsis of the book directly from the publisher’s website…



aylesford skull


It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer is at home in Aylesford with his family. However a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay, the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives. When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race into London in pursuit…



Blaylock has apparently written a series of stories following the adventures of this protagonist, Langdon St. Ives.  This particular novel follows his quest to thwart the evil Dr. Narbondo’s plot to open some kind of door to the afterlife, while also retrieving his kidnapped son.  The skull named in the title of the story is a supernatural device that allows the user to bring forth the ghost of the dead person for, what appears to me to be, no reason whatsoever.  Armed with the skull and an incredibly over complicated plot to blow up a cathedral in London, Narbondo plans to open a door to the netherworld.  His reasons for doing so are never completely explained, other than the constant describing of the character’s insanity.  Along the way, Langdon battles thugs, flies in an airship, and consistently stays just a step behind his antagonist until the very end of the story,  of course.  At one point his FOUR year old son actually brandishes a large tree branch and assists in the saving of one of Langdon’s cohorts by striking his pursuer.  The idea of a four year old child being able to strike a full-grown man; specifically a man who earlier had one of his eyes gouged out yet still had the wherewithal to continue his pursuit, and stun the villain into temporarily giving up the chase, is absurd to me.


Then again, this is steampunk, right?  According to Wikipedia, all I have to do is throw a giant mechanical spider in a stupid wild-west movie and we’ve got steampunk.  Maybe toddlers with superhuman strength are part of the genre as well and I am just ignorant of its intricacies.  Either way, unless you’d like to waste $14.95 on an incredibly slow moving story with a plot that makes little to no sense, I do not recommend this novel.  The fact that James Blaylock is a protégé of one of my personal favorite science fiction authors, Phillip K. Dick, disturbs me greatly.  Dick was a master of the craft.  He penned more science fiction stories that have transcended the genre and become mainstream cinematic successes than just about any author I can think of, while Blaylock has apparently contented himself with writing about spooky skulls and blimps.



The Aylesford Skull was courtesy of Titan Books.


This is normally where I would give you a link to where you can purchase this book.  I won’t be doing that because I would feel personally responsible for you wasting fifteen dollars and I don’t want that on my conscience.

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