Karen Memory -Book Review for Gamers
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear can be described as a feminist western steampunk adventure novel. The main character, Karen Memery, is a “seamstress” in Rapid City, a west coast town in steampunk USA. Seamstress is a euphemism for prostitute and Karen works in a classy brothel. There is a gruesome murder in Rapid City. US Marshal Bass Reeves enters town and Karen and her gang of associates help him to track down the killer while battling against the evil brothel owner across town.
Pros of the book: The author does not tiptoe around the race and gender realities of the Gilded Age. These themes are up front in the story, and the reader gets to enjoy the story as the protagonist and her friends strive within the confines of the power politics of the period. Also, the author spends a lot of time on the characters. The reader will get to know these people very closely throughout the book. The trade off is that less time is spent describing the setting.
Could have been better: The steampunk element is confined to the background of the story for the majority of the book. The first part reads more like historical fiction, although the ending delivers. There are brief mentions of mad scientist duels and steampunk construction mecha, leaving a brief taste and a yearning for more. Hopefully there will be another book in this series that will delve more into the technology.
Overall, the story was enjoyable. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy characterization and historical fiction mixed in with their genre stories.
This book would make a good rpg adventure, and there are many steampunk role-playing games out there. One interesting game that I recently picked up is OneDice Steampunk by Cakebread & Walton. Their OneDice system, like the name implies, runs off a single D6 roll. The quickstart rules are available on a pay-what-you-want basis.
OneDice Steampunk is a complete set of rules. It is short, versatile and inexpensive. I like the fact that the book gives options for various flavors of steampunk, such as supernatural monster hunting or lost world exploring. The book also keeps the punk in steampunk by dividing characters into “haves” and “have-nots”, with bonuses appropriate to each choice.
Here is my character write-up for Karen Memery for the OneDice Steampunk system.
Job: “Seamstress” (Have Nots only, Gives Entertainer 1 and Perception 1)