Review: PIMP MY AIRSHIP by Maurice Broaddus

Book Reviews

Pimp. My. Airship. What a title. As someone with very little steampunk reading hours under my belt this was a book I was super excited to read, especially after how much I loved some of the other books put out by Apex, like SNOW OVER UTOPIA, COIL and ROSEWATER (originally published by small press Apex before being picked up by Orbit – lil piece of trivia for ya there). I didn’t fully know what to expect from PIMP MY AIRSHIP, but I was definitely along for the ride.



It tells the story of a chiba-smoking spoken word poet called Sleepy, who inadvertently becomes the face of a revolution when his performance theatre is raided by the authoritarian Indianapolis cops. Taken under the wing of a professional revolutionary known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah, the two of them soon find themselves on the run from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, in a desperate attempt to elude the powers that be. Meanwhile, young heiress Sophine Jefferson becomes embroiled in the shady world of corrupt politicians and racist businessmen who run the city, putting her on a collision course with the path of Sleepy, Knowledge Allah and the fomenting revolution.

I’ll start with the good stuff, ’cause there’s a bunch of stuff I thought was *chef’s kiss* about this book. Pimp My Airship really excels on the macro level – themes and world building. It’s a book that brazenly goes to town on the status quo, shining a bright light on the cockroaches of systemic racism, police brutality and the exploitative nature inherent in industrial capitalism. Broaddus does a great job at weaving these themes into the story and showing how all these things are part of a broader and interconnected web of systemic oppression; in Broaddus’ book the primary function of the state is to protect the interests of the wealthy and protect private property, while the City Ordained Pinkertons (COPs) exists as a supposedly neutral force that in reality acts as the violent enforcers of capital and privatised prisons exploit their overwhelmingly black inmate population for free labour. Sound familiar? Yeah.

The broad world building is cool too. Each chapter is introduced with snippets of reports from the corporate press outlets ironically called Vox Populi and Vox Dei, which give us some background context to the kind of world Sleepy, Knowledge Allah and Sophine exist in. They’re propaganda outlets which go out of their way to perform the kind of mental gymnastics often displayed in our own corporate media institutions that variously boost the voices of the powerful, justify police violence and attempt to paint white people as the ‘real victims’ of racism. One of my favourite parts of the book is the section about The Knights of the White Camelia, a real life organisation of mainly upper class white men who occupied powerful positions in government and business in the 19th century. Even though they’re the ones getting rich exploiting people in the fields and factories, sentencing people in the courthouses and pulling the levers of power in government, they see themselves as the real victims of working class and black exploitation when the oppressed make any attempt to resist. After all, when you’re blind to your own privilege, any attempt to level the playing field feels like oppression. This is handled very well in the book, showing how the powerful view the status quo as the natural order of things and any attempt to level the scales as dangerous radicalism.

Unfortunately this method of world building at times felt much too info dumpy for my tastes. These little media snippets are interesting in and of themselves and do give us as readers some wider context about the world, but too often they weren’t directly relevant to the story being told. This stuff always feels more natural and relevant to me when it’s weaved into the narrative, if the characters see it in action or speak to someone who talks about it. I’d rather not be simply told something is the case, but see it crop up as part of the story.

This is where the book is weaker in my opinion – at the micro level of character. This is very much a plot-driven story and for the first three quarters of the book the characters have very little agency. Instead they’re helplessly carried along on a wave of events happening to them and I struggled to identify any goals or motivations they were working towards, beyond simply escaping the bad things being done to them. Even then, they never seem to have any plan to get themselves out of danger, and instead are reliant on the unexpected actions of others to get them out of a tight spot. I mean obviously YMMV on this, but I’m more engaged by characters who do stuff, and it’s their actions that create drama and tension and drive the story forward by their consequences. So even though lots of stuff was happening and danger was never far away, I didn’t get a great sense of narrative tension because Sleepy and Knowledge Allah didn’t really have any goals for most of the book. Sophine was more interesting. She has plans for her life that go very awry and she makes decisions that drastically alter the course of her life; I felt like she had much more agency and a direct effect on the world around her than Sleepy and Knowledge Allah ever did, so this was a plus point in the story.

So yeah, PIMP MY AIRSHIP was a bit of a mixed bag for me; great at the broad strokes stuff, a bit weaker when you zoom in and a method of storytelling I personally just don’t have a taste for. Overall I was a bit disappointed it didn’t reach the potential it clearly has, but there are definitely things to love about it and I still think it’s definitely worth a read for those aspects.


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Hey! Watcha Readin’: Apex Special

Updates

Happy Sunday booklings! Welcome back for another weekly update. I’m still reading my way through the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and continuing with the DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT readalong, so this week I’m gonna shift focus a bit and talk about some books I’m really excited to read from small press Apex Publications.

This post was prompted by Jason Sizemore, the owner of Apex, who tweeted that one of my favourite books of the year was originally published by Apex, but didn’t really garner much attention until it was picked up by a major publisher. That book was ROSEWATER by Tade Thompson (read my glowing review here), a novel I loved for really pushing the boundaries of what modern SFF could look like. This got me looking into some of the other books Apex are putting out and a lot of their stuff sounds just as Out There and boundary-pushing as Rosewater. So here are a few books by Apex that I’m very excited to read.

PIMP MY AIRSHIP by Maurice Broaddus

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protester known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be. When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.

COIL by Ren Warom

Bone Adams is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. As more victims are discovered, Bone and Stark get drawn deeper into a world where pain and personal statement blend and blur, and finally end up hunting for a semi-mythical, man-machine named Burneo deep within the labyrinth of the sewers. But things aren’t what they seem, and while searching for Burneo, Bone and Stark discover a hidden lab full of evidence of horrific abuses of science and experimentation. Meanwhile, the killer is still on the loose, and, as Stark becomes more and more obsessed with the case, Bone is forced to a shattering realisation. Everything is connected, the killings, the gang activity, the labs, and his own past, and unless he can figure out how, he’s not going to survive.

SNOW OVER UTOPIA by Rudolfo A. Serna

In an age of savage science powered by black-mass, and thrown away bio-matter leaked into an underground sea lit by the heart of the great tree, a girl named Eden loses her rare blue eyes. Escaping her fanatical and sadistic slave masters with her eyes in a jar, she runs away with a murderer named Miner. After fleeing for their lives deep within the forest, they are found by the Librarian and his daughter Delilah, and sheltered in their mountain-top sanctuary. But she cannot stop there. If Eden wants to restore her eyes, then she must go on through time and space in a necrotronic stream generated by the living computer program called Witch Mother. While mutantoid priests in underground bunkers monitor transmissions from the great tree, Eden and Miner must face the horrors of the factories and the coliseum run by the Robot Queen in the city of Utopia.

Looking into these less mainstream books has made me much more appreciative of the work small presses like Apex do to bring some of the more experimental and ‘out there’ SFF into the world. I’m looking forward to diving into these books and I’ll be paying much more active attention to the work of small presses in the future!

Do you have any small press recommendations? Let me know what you’re reading this week and make sure to follow the blog to never miss a post!