I first read Five Million Watts [Amazon link] almost exactly a year ago, but I didn’t review it until February of 2020. With the scientific assistance of Hans Schantz [Amazon link], Fenton Wood takes the electronic geekery up to 11 in the second volume of the Yankee Republic series. And if you liked the first one, you should definitely pick up the second, because everything I liked about the first is back, but it is if possible even better.
One of the things that defines this kind of book is the sense of wonder. Wood creates a world that is familiar, yet strange; a place that never was, but should have been. A major component of this is taking something or some place familiar, running it through the logic of Philo’s world, and then adding a heaping dose of whimsy taken from any myth or legend that strikes Wood’s fancy.
Thus the biggest city of the Yankee Republic, Iburakon, probably sounds like somewhere you know, but it is nonetheless utterly unlike it in all the right ways. Thick world building is hard, so Wood shamelessly steals anything and everything, and it works somehow!
In addition to borrowing from myth and legend, Wood also puts in references to more recent works. I think this is done well, as it can be easy to make a work too esoteric, only funny to the in-crowd, whereas each thing here makes perfect sense in its own context. It just a bonus if you think to yourself, hey the supernatural luck of the world-bestriding conqueror sounds a lot like the Teela Brown gene.
By way of example, let’s look at a list of some of the German expressionist movies that Philo and some of the other radio technicians try to take some girls to see:
I DWELL IN SHADOWS
When the eminent Dr. Rotwang is kidnapped by the Man Who Laughs and forced to build a robot army, the Burgermeister of New Hamburg lights a bonfire atop the city’s tallest building to summon Die Fledermaus, a legendary protector who lurks in the deepest shadows. In an epic battle across the bridges and towers of New Hamburg, Die Fledermaus pursues the Man Who Laughs and forces him to give up the Word of Power that commands the robots. But when the city withholds the traditional payment of a single gold coin, Die Fledermaus vows that the sun shall not rise again until he is paid in full!
THE SILENT GENERAL
He is the most fearsome servant of the Pale Emperor, leading his armies into battle. His face has never been seen, hidden behind armor of all-consuming black. Nor does he utter a word, commanding his troops with a gesture or a sign. The only sound he makes is a strange mechanical respiration, like the bellows of a great engine. With his sword of crimson fire and his mastery of the Unknown Force, he strikes terror into the enemies of the Empire.
There is more where this came from.
And then finally, we have Philo and his friends, who act just like young men everywhere. Sometimes, you are amazed they survive past young adulthood. But of course, there is a reason why. There is a particular pair of scenes with Philo and his technician buddies trying to psych themselves up to practice climbing an abandoned tower, only to be collectively unmanned by a beautiful young lady. Then, those same young men later climb the radio antennas in a blizzard to knock the ice accumulation off before the towers collapse
John C. Wright captured this exact thing in a perceptive essay:
Character is a hidden trait. Many a young man undertakes foolish risks and stupid dares, leaping from rooftops or riding bikes on railroad trestles, not from any self-destructive impulse, but because of a burning need to discover what his own character is. Is he a coward or not? He cannot know this unless he sees himself under stress, in an emergency. Hence some young men concoct artificial emergencies by taking up dares or doing daring stunts or doing deeds of derring-do.
Philo, and the young men just like him, concocted artificial emergencies for themselves, and so they were ready when a real emergency came along.
All this and more is why I love the Yankee Republic. Why not come along and see what its all about?
Other books by Fenton Wood