Lorenzo Secondari, veteran of the first World War and engineering genius, is a leader of the futurist revolution in the diminutive Adriatic port of Fiume! Together with Frau Piffer, a manufacturer of torpedoes in a women-run and women-owned factory, The Ace of Hearts, a sympathetic aristocrat and spymaster, and the Prophet, a womanizing warrior poet, they overthrow communism and capitalism in favor of free love, art, and poetry.
As SF alternate history, it is refreshing to read a story based on a lesser-known, localized event, instead of WWII. More of the story than you would expect is true, with elements of mood-setting and imaginative dieselpunk, including aerial torpedoes, mass produced single-shot pistols, the F-ray, trenchcoats, futurist uniforms, biplanes, and titles like, “Minister of Vengeance Weapons”. Hitler, Mussolini, Houdini, and Lovecraft all make some sort of pulpy appearance.
Together with the propaganda-style artwork and the title, I expected much more of a light-hearted character-driven romp. Instead, the reader is presented with a slow-moving plot and dense prose. None of the characters are immediately engaging, although Secondari dies on the battlefield and is brought back to life with advanced seance techniques, and he has a special admiration for Frau Piffer. But the more I think about the story, the more I like it. It’s smart but aloof. It’s a philosophical idea. This is what happens when an art revolution has the impetus and resources of technology and engineering.
Included with the novella is a transcript of an author interview, a short account of the true history of Fiume, and an artist statement regarding the works that open and close each chapter. I recommend reading these first, as they provide a lot of context and appreciation for the work. As Bruce Sterling is better known for his hard science fiction, I am excited to start reading his other works.
Recommended for Dieselpunk fans and history buffs!
“We lead the way into the Future, of course! With industry, with engineering—and from a real position of strength! Marinetti is entirely right. Out with the old Roman statues. Now we bring in the race cars.”