A thousand years in the future, we follow Sebastian, a young teenager living in the quiet and rural remains of a pocket of civilization after an ancient nuclear apocalypse. As a strange sickness takes his father and consumes his mother, he is left in servitude of his selfish aunt and cut off from the brilliant mind of a teacher, sharing with him a love of near-legendary clockwork and steam power of the past. His luck changes – not all for the better – on finding an envelope addressed to him in a locked jewelry box, and a group of black-suited half-machine assassins set out for his violent termination. What follows is an adventure that pits steampunk against cyberpunk in a Mad Max-like young adult science-fantasy world of Tesla by Mark Lingane, the first book of the Tesla series.
Tesla is a sci-fi geek’s dream incarnate, pitting two popular genres together in the apocalyptic setting of two similar, but worlds apart, techno-revivalist societies of the future. While the typical refined and clean essences of each genre aren’t present – with little in the way of wholly sophisticated technology or culture on either side – the thematic death-match is something a lot of typical fans can enjoy. If you ever thought you’d like to see a mix of the three settings in a young adult-styled adventure novel, this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. The book has some interesting ideas and a cool take on the tropes of all of its base genres that fits them together as a cohesive, if starkly contrasted whole.
After a somewhat mundane intro, the novel quickly becomes full of technical and even quasi-magical substance that would make Star Trek blush, but also settles into a leisurely pace without getting boring or devoid of intrigue, with characters who are in general interesting if not particularly complex either in their personality or their motivations overall. Sebastian really feels like a perfect character for a younger teenager to put themselves into his shoes, and his personal journey is a decent coming of age tale, albeit on an unusual background of a Dickensian home life, magic powers and killer cyborgs.
The book has its flaws, mostly in the jarring transitions between scenes that leave you wondering what you missed until you go back a paragraph, as well as the sometimes dry prose between the more interesting exchanges and moments that can add to the confusion as a lack of necessary details blur the story elements together. There are some absolute home runs in memorable lines and some extremely witty naming and detailing, but there also are very notable instances where an idea just didn’t work as well as it could have, such as a deliberately confusing naming choice a few chapters in.
Lingane is an able writer and by no means a novice, with an established niche in the strange and novel genre mash-ups with a bent on the science fiction side. Tesla is another in the line of these works and despite its flaws it is certainly an interesting read worth a look if only out of curiosity for how the pieces fit together in the final product. If the idea seems interesting, the sequel, Decay, promises to be a darker and more complex progression on the story and the world and may make this first entry worth your time just to fully appreciate the second installment. Overall, it is a niche read with all the benefits and drawbacks of being exactly what the author wanted it to be.