Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Beyond the Rails - Jack Tyler

Regular readers may remember my December post, I've got mail! That was about the arrival of Beyond the Rails, hot off the press, a gift from the author. It got packed to take as holiday reading, and then got lost in amongst the pile of books I acquired a various stops along the way (oops...) and in the end, I read it in the week after we got back - and it was exactly the kind of escapism I needed to help adjust to being back from holidays!
Beyond the rails started as a series of short stories. Back in August 2012, after many hints from Jack, I eventually got around to reading the first of them, The Botanist, on the bus to work one morning. Steampunk has never been a genre I've sought out, so I was slow to get going. You can read the post I wrote about that experience HERE. I'll confess, now, that I didn't manage to get around to reading the rest of the stories at that point - they were on Jack's website, and I hate reading on screens. Printing them was a long and involved process of copying and pasting, then tidying up corrupted formatting, and so on. Along the way, via emails and conversations via both of our sites, the gentle hassling continued from Jack to read them, while I continued to prevaricate. Then while he was on a new site, the idea that they might become a book started to be bashed around between us. Meantime, the editor of a magazine in the States offered to publish them as short stories, and Jack jumped at the chance. It looked like the book might not happen - until, he discovered that the people at the magazine were happy for him to go ahead. 

While they were written originally as self contained short stories, they involve the same core group of characters - the captain and crew of the Kestrel, an airship carrying freight into the wilds of colonial Africa beyond the train line. They're a motley group of misfits: Patience Hobbs, English, the pilot; David Smith (quite likely not his real name), an American from the frontier, deck crew; Gunther Brown, German, the engineer; and Clinton Monroe, an English ex-serviceman, cashiered out of the army, the captain. They take Nicholas Ellsworth on board in Mombasa, newly arrived from England with his freshly minted botanist qualifications, bound to classify rare flora in the wilderness. Things don't go quite as planned - which appears to be de rigeur for this group - and after many adventures, very little plant classification, and great risk to life and limb for all concerned, Nick finds himself taken on as crew for the foreseeable future. 

There are five more stories in the book, and a preview of the seventh, all of which tell a story in themselves, but become increasingly cohesive with smoother transitions between one and the next, so that they run rather more like long chapters. One of Jack's concerns about compiling the stories into book form was that they'd not been intended to be chapters, they'd not even originally been intended to be a series, as such. He wasn't sure that they'd run together well. He needn't have worried - they flow very well. Volume Two, when it happens, may possibly develop more along those lines, as he will now have a book in mind when there are enough stories written. 

One of Jack's particular strengths is his dialogue. Writing convincing dialogue is a difficult art, particularly if you take into account the different cultural backgrounds of Jack's characters - which grow to include a ramshackle group of Australians in a later story! Part of getting it right means there has to be due attention paid to the characters themselves, and again, here he has clearly spent enormous amounts of time creating his people, their back stories and their individual peculiarities. They're all solid, and the shifting dynamics between them in varying combinations is great fun, and often very amusing.

If Steampunk is your thing, or you just love a good, old-fashioned adventure, go buy yourself a copy. It's available on Amazon - follow this LINK.


  1. I got a book voucher for my birthday. I know where some of the money is going!

  2. My God, I am so lame! I went into the hospital on January 7th, and didn't return home until March 1st, and I completely missed your review of my book. I cannot believe it! And I cannot believe you liked it so much. Your observations about my characters is quite right, they all have tremendous back stories, and I know them as well as my own family members. When I put them into a situation, they all act "right;" in fact, they will not allow me to force them into something they wouldn't normally do.

    I am humbled and gratified to have been able to provide you with some escapist entertainment, especially as I know you as a much more literary reader. How did I do with the Aussies, by the way? And Rachel, if you happen to read this comment, here's hoping you have as much fun as Kaz seems to have had.

    All the best to both of you, and again, my apologies,

    ~ "Blimprider"

    1. Ah Jack - you were pretty much out to it by the time I got this posted. That's OK. You found it eventually. I really did enjoy it - you know me well enough by now to know I don't write good reviews for the sake of writing them. The stories are pacy and engaging. And you got the Aussies really well, by the way. Not sure if Rachel followed up - I'll touch base with her and find out.