Here’s where the twain shall meet (pun intended)

Stephen Wishnevsky must have … jet lag? Airship lag? In no time at all, he’s traveled from Mark Twain and The Gilded Age to Agatha H and a wild Girl Genius fantasy. Who knows where he will venture next?

By Stephen Wishnevsky

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AGATHA H AND THE AIRSHIP CITY.  By Phil and Kaja Foglio. Night Shade Books. 264 pages. $24.99.

Finally a new book, hot off the presses. Internet. Whatever. This is a novelization of the Foglios’ Hugo Award winning Girl Genius webcomic.

The webcomic has been cavorting since November 2002, and is available in nine bound volumes. Much of science fiction is concerned with “world building” – the creation of more or less coherent universes – and the one young Agatha inhabits is particularly vivid.

In a land recognizably Europe, there is a Paris; an England; mad geniuses; “madboys” or “Sparks” who vie to create insane robots; “Clanks” or assembled beings; Frankensteinian constructs; mutant soldiers; the “Jagermonsters” and a bewildering cast of hundreds of strange more or less humans, all either part of or rebelling against the empire of Dr. Klaus Wulfebach, and his son Gilgamesh.

That’s for openers, before things get complicated. The backstory involves two Tom Swiftian brothers, Bill and Barry Heterodyne. They are missing, living only in the pages of cheap novels and storytellers’ tales.  Clear?

This is billed as a “Gaslamp Fantasy,” somewhat more medieval than “Steam Punk,” a closely related genre.

Agatha is young, blonde and buxom, and she is prone to getting caught clad in her knickers. She is an apprentice to a Spark, the Tyrant of Transylvania Polytechnic University. She is inept, hampered by frequent migraines and even more common explosions.

The novel covers the first two volumes of the Girl Genius canon, introduces many of the leading characters and sets the frantic pitch of the enterprise. The Foglios seem to follow the old writing advice, “When in doubt, throw another bear into the canoe.” The prose book lacks the stunning art of the webcomic, but is great fun, withal. Never a dull microsecond.

By the end of this volume, Agatha has begun to seize her identity and sparkish powers, things are blowing up with some punctuality, and the backstory is throwing in emergent monsters in every direction.

Eight years later, the webcomic is madder than ever, the warring factions have become innumerable, and resolution is as distant as ever, if not receding like a panicked clankasaurus. In other words, great fun for all chaos fans.

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