I finally read a book by Stephen Baxter! Anti-Ice seems like it should be very much down my road: Victorians! In space! Science! Alternate history!
… yeah, about that.
Spoilers up ahead.
Anti-Ice features a young ~anti-hero~ privileged idiot as protagonist. His character was one-dimensional, and served pretty well to tell the story, and also to invite info dumps. While the book wants you to believe that there was character development, there was none. He also falls in love with an obvious French saboteur after talking to her twice. Seriously. It’s so obvious other characters comment on it. He never gets over it.
We also get the scientist with a conscience, the British patriot, the British butler, the French patriot, and we just about escaped having a Prussian cardboard cut-out.
Sadly, we don’t get a plot. Well, except if you accept “Idiot goes to space by accident, discovers moon monsters, returns”. Actually, that part of the story was fun, in a pulp-y sort of way. Like, there is no plot, but there are detailed descriptions of Victorians in space, which seems like a Jules Verne thing to do, and a lot of fun. Though Jules Verne would’ve been more realistic about things, seriously. Building a rocket that lives through both liftoff and re-entry? And air filtering, food, etc? Just like that, really? My suspension of disbelief took a big hit there, and I don’t even know all that much about rockets.
Sadly, the book did not end there. We get another ~20% of info dumping on how the world developed after that. How the French and the Prussians concluded their war, how Europe evolved consequently. Sometimes characters go out of their way to explain how some Mr Dickens or Mr Disraeli are really not well-known because something derailed their career. Totally natural.
Anti-Ice itself is such a heavy-handed metaphor for nuclear power that it doesn’t really bear mention. Includes all of methods of transport, missiles, destroying cities and armies, a cold war, etc. Pretty uninspired, I thought, because this has been done. In real life. Give me at least some “alternate” with my alternate history, please.
So, yeah. If you like steampunk, go ahead! Parts of it are really enjoyable! You won’t get character development or a good plot, but the world-building is well done, so if you enjoy novels like that on occasion (I know I do, no judgement implied) – go ahead! I don’t think I’ll be returning to Baxter any time soon, though: My theory is that Victorians are somewhat tedious, and Baxter is a tedious writer, so they brought out the best in him.