The Boneshaker: A List of Seriously Cool Stuff that’s in This Book

Velocipedes, patent medicines, phrenology, Winton motorcars, blues, psychotic harlequins, snake oil salesmen, electroshock, automata, an Edgar Allan Poe-quoting fortune-teller, and a contest of skill played at the crossroads against the Devil.

You’re wondering now, what is this list of weird, cool stuff?

It’s a list–a very partial list, mind you; it isn’t even a complete list–of weird, cool stuff in The Boneshaker.

At long last, things are happening. The book comes out in four months, and I’m starting to get emails and phone calls from contacts who have received advance copies. After one week of play, the Feburary Facebook Boneshaker ARCmania Game (today’s randomly-chosen exciting name) is in full, highly-competitive swing; at last count (and I am counting obsessively) 81 new members have joined The Boneshaker’s FB group for this contest (and I hope you all win). A whole bunch of people have showed up here at The Clockwork Foundry. I hope you’ll all visit often. All things considered, it seemed like a good time to tell you a little bit about the book and why you are going to love it when it shows up on your doorstep on May 24.

For a basic summary of the book, I will direct you to Powell’s (where, conveniently enough, you can pre-order it if you haven’t already). For this post, I have decided to list all the Cool Stuff that went into the story. If you like these things, you are probably going to like this book just on principle.

Cool Stuff that was percolating in my head in 2003 (or whenever it was that I wrote the first draft):

  • Item: New Yorker article about the Jamaica Ginger epidemic of the 1930’s, referenced by various blues musicians as jake leg, the gingerfoot, and the old jake limberleg blues. In order to bypass Prohibition regulations that were intended to make the patent medicine called Jamaica Ginger Bitters (or jake) less drinkable, a pair of bootlegger chemists added a plasticizer to it that turned out to be a neurotoxin. (For clarification: patent medicines=cool and interesting. Net results of neurotoxins being added to them=not so cool.)
  • Item: Horatio’s Drive, the Ken Burns documentary about Horatio Nelson Jackson’s 1903 cross-country drive in a Winton motorcar, accompanied by a professional bicycle racer-turned-mechanic.
  • Item:  Les Automates (French-language photo-essay book about automata purchased at the Strand Bookstore).
  • Item: A selection of old books of American folklore, including 3 on the subject of Jack Tales.
  • Item: Ray Rupelli’s apartment, with Cool Stuff including but not limited to an antique dentist’s chair found on the street; a coffee table decorated with guitar picks; a piece of iron grate; and a Robert Johnson record, found (I believe) in a box of records cleaned out of some apartment and left by somebody, like so many treasures are, on the sidewalk for pickup on trash day.

So, percolating in my head that year: patent medicines, blues, the Devil at the Crossroads, bicycles and motorcars. Then I started commuting from Brooklyn to New Jersey, and listening to audio books. Which brings us to:

  • Item: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (purchased as an audio book to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel while commuting from Brookyn to New Jersey).  I fell in love with Bradbury’s language and the dark wonder of Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, as well as the small-town setting of Green Town. (Although I can’t cite it as a Cool Thing That Influenced This Book because I only read it last month, Arthur Slade’s Dust is another wonderful story about a menacing traveling show that wins over a town, and the single kid to whom it falls to rescue everyone and everything he loves.)
  • Item: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (also bought on audio to keep me from passing out while commuting). Lots of people feel really strongly about the His Dark Materials trilogy or about Pullman himself; some are fans, some aren’t. I’m not getting into any of that. I loved the books, but what I loved most was Lyra Silvertongue, Pullman’s fierce heroine.

So now, to the percolating Cool Stuff you can add: a diabolical traveling showman and a fierce young girl, the only person who can save everyone and everything she loves from Impending Doom:

The Diabolical Traveling Showman: Dr. Jake Epiphemius Limberleg, proprietor of and head of research for Dr. Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show. Also in Limberleg’s corner are Willoughby Acquetus, Paracelsus Vorticelt, Thaddeus Argonault, and Alpheus Nervine: the Paragons of Science, four specialists in the arts of Hydrotherapy, Phrenology, Magnetism, and Amber Therapy.

The Fierce Girl: Natalie Minks, daughter of the town’s bicycle mechanic and the woman who knows all the weird stories about their crossroads hometown of Arcane. Natalie loves all things mechanical, the Wright Brothers, and the antique Chesterlane Eidolon velocipede her father fixed up for her, even though it’s a meanspirited, hateful, impossible-to-ride boneshaker of a bicycle.

Then there’s Jack, the green-eyed drifter with a carpetbag and a tin lantern, and nobody knows what he’s up to. Except for maybe Simon Coffrett, the man who lives in Arcane’s only mansion…but nobody’s real sure about that Rilke-quoting recluse, either.

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