Following her foray into the Young Adult market with the nautically-themed steampunk / fantasy novel Queen Rat, Kim Lakin-Smith returns to gothic fiction with her latest novel. Like her debut Tourniquet: Tales from the Renegade City, Cyber City is set in a dystopian landscape, populated by a bizarre collection of freaks, geeks, and weirdoes.
Despite some similarities in the setting and gothic themes, Cyber Circus is a vastly different beast to Kimâ€™s debut novel. Tourniquet was very much a gothic novel, where as Cyber Circus broaches the realms of science-fiction and gas-punk. What has not changed in Kim’s writing is her eye for characters, as once again we are presented with a diverse series of unique characters that never lose their focus amongst the myriad deviants, desperadoes and degenerates.
Set in 1937, the story of Cyber Circus revolves around the circus of the title, as it travels between communities scattered across Sore Earth, bringing carnival decadence to the denizens of this post-apocalyptic world. Amongst them is Hellequin the Hawkeye, one of the last-surviving augmented soldiers, the aptly named Desirous Nim whose light burns from within, the circus-hand Pig Heart who literally has the heart of a swine, and the feral Wolf Girl.
The majority of the story revolves around the Cyber Circus’s flight from the pimp Dâ€™Angelus and his burrowing machine, as he seeks to reclaim Desirous Nim as his own and capture Wolf Girl for his own ends. Alongside this narrative is the exploration of Hellequin and his loyalty to the Cyber Circus, along with the Desirous Nim’s evolution from being a brutalised courtesan into actively defending herself.
The narrative of Cyber Circus takes no prisoners as the novel opens mid-scene, with little in the way of preamble. Kim Lakin-Smith assumes her readers are sufficiently intelligent to deduce what is happening, thus allowing the story to develop as the action continues. Nonetheless, this opening can be confusing for the unprepared. This disconcerting beginning forces the reader to focus on the memorable characters that form the core of the story. As the story progresses, the world of the Sore Earth expands around the reader as the Cyber Circus continues in its flight from the pimp.
When comparing Cyber Circus with her earlier work, it is obvious that Kim Lakin-Smith has evolved as a writer, having slimmed down the narrative – making for a faster and leaner read. Whereas Tourniquet had a rich depth of description that subsequently slowed the plot a bit too much for my liking, in Cyber Circus we find a quicker pace to Kimâ€™s writing, yet without any sacrifice of the atmosphere that set her first novel apart.
If there is one issue I had with Cyber Circus, is that the structuring seemed disjointed. At times I felt shoehorned from one scene to another without pretext or foreshadowing. These abrupt changes to the narrative flow of the story sometimes left me with the impression that there was little logic to the charactersâ€™ actions.
Accompanying Cyber Circus is Black Sunday, a short novella also set in the Sore Earth, yet far more grounded in reality. Whilst Cyber Circus leant itself with a fantastic edge, Black Sunday was far more focussed on small town politics and the reality of living in such a barren and lifeless world of the Sore Earth.
Set two years prior to the events of Cyber Circus, Black Sunday explores one familyâ€™s attempts to explain why the land of Sore Earth was so dry, by using a burrowing machine similar to the one found in Cyber Circus. Here though, the burrower acts more as a MacGuffin, around which much of the plot revolves.
It should be noted that whilst Black Sunday exists in the same Sore Earth world as Cyber Circus, it is not a prequel, other than acting as a possible explanation for the burrowing machine. This is not the only difference, as Black Sunday is a distinctly grounded story compared to the fantastic themes that exists within Cyber Circus. Here, even the dialogue is presented in a much more natural style, which grounds the reader in the arid setting of the Sore Earth with a subtlety that is sublime.
Whereas Cyber Circus is fantastical adventure, Black Sunday could easily be mistaken for a tragic period piece set in the Dust Bowl of America (were it not for the mammoth burrowing machine). Similarly, the ending in the novel concludes as it would in reality, which is unfortunate as Black Sunday was a distinctly compelling read that left me wanting to learn more about the family.