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Reeve, Philip

Entry updated 6 May 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1966-    ) UK illustrator from 1996, mostly of picture books for younger readers, and author of Young Adult fiction, most prominently to date the Mortal Engines series, the main sequence of which, the Hungry Cities Chronicles, comprises Mortal Engines (2001), Predator's Gold (2003), Infernal Devices (2005) and A Darkling Plain (2006). The tightly composed series is set in the Ruined Earth northern hemisphere of Earth a thousand or so years hence, where moving Machine-like cities vie for lebensraum. In a telling Parody of Social Darwinism, their predatory behaviour is known as Municipal Darwinism, and is as tragically dysfunctional as its model: the Cities, including a ruthless London, eat each other, while at the same time causing further Ecological damage to their stamping grounds. The long tale is told vividly, with an extensive use of Steampunk imagery including Balloons and Airships; only some members of the extensive cast survive the Holocaust generated by a final War between the moving cities and the stationary civilization to the East. In the end, not perhaps entirely convincingly, a pastoral Utopia, clemently supping from a non-exploitative new Power Source, takes over. A short pendant, Traction City (2011 chap dos), does not modify this outcome. A prequel series – the Mortal Engines Prequels comprising Fever Crumb (2009), A Web of Air (2010) and Scrivener's Moon (2011) – is set before the cities were engineered into mobility, focusing on a seamed, artefact-choked London whose uneasy bondage to the misunderstood past (the twenty-first century) is significantly less celebratory than usually found in tales that evoke Steampunk. Though the glossy surface of his novels may verge on the easy, Reeve is not in fact a sentimental writer.

Reeve's second main sequence – the Larklight Trilogy comprising Larklight [for subtitle see Checklist] (2006), Starcross (2007) and Mothstorm (2008) – is perhaps easier on the nerves, exhibiting a genuinely elated Steampunk sensibility within a Ripping Yarns tradition, and inhabiting a genuine Alternate Cosmos according to the physical laws of which the interplanetary aether can be embarked upon by ships; there is a good deal of piracy. The exuberant expansiveness of this series also marks the soberer but more far-flung Network Empire series comprising Railhead (2015), Black Light Express (2016) and Station Zero (2018), set in an essentially homo-sapiens-friendly home galaxy millennia hence, after an AI-driven Singularity has taken over the reins of history, and now operate as a cohort of AI's known collectively as the Guardians, from behind the scenes, giving mortals limited access to the "Datasea" in which they swim; they manifest occasionally in Avatar form. The thousands of worlds under their sway, connected by a rail network run by sentient trains through a web of Matter Transmitters, provide venues for the expansive unpacking of Space Opera topoi. China Miéville's Railsea (2012) is a clear influence. As in Iain M Banks's Culture sequence, gritty implications periodically shadow the clemency. [JC]

see also: Carnegie Medal; Eastercon; Seiun Award.

Philip Reeve

born Brighton, Sussex: 28 February 1966



Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles

  • Mortal Engines (London: Scholastic Press, 2001) [Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles: hb/David Frankland]
  • Predator's Gold (London: Scholastic Press, 2003) [Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles: hb/David Frankland]
  • Infernal Devices (London: Scholastic Press, 2005) [Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles: hb/David Frankland]
  • A Darkling Plain (London: Scholastic Press, 2006) [Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles: hb/David Frankland]
  • Traction City (London: Scholastic Press, 2011) [novella: chap: dos: Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles: pb/]
  • Night Flights (London: Scholastic Press, 2018) [coll: Mortal Engines: Hungry Cities Chronicles: illus/hb/Ian McQue]

Mortal Engines Prequels

  • Fever Crumb (London: Scholastic Press, 2009) [Mortal Engines Prequels: hb/David Wyatt]
  • A Web of Air (London: Scholastic Press, 2010) [Mortal Engines Prequels: hb/David Wyatt]
  • Scrivener's Moon (London: Scholastic Press, 2011) [Mortal Engines Prequels: hb/David Wyatt]

Buster Bayliss

  • Night of the Living Veg (London: Scholastic Children's Books, 2002) [Buster Bayliss: illus/hb/Graham Philpot]
  • The Big Freeze (London: Scholastic Children's Books, 2002) [Buster Bayliss: illus/hb/Graham Philpot]
  • Day of the Hamster (London: Scholastic Children's Books, 2002) [Buster Bayliss: illus/hb/Graham Philpot]
  • Custardfinger (London: Scholastic Children's Books, 2003) [Buster Bayliss: illus/hb/Graham Philpot]

Larklight Trilogy

Network Empire

  • Railhead (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2015) [Network Empire: hb/Shutterstock]
  • Black Light Express (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2016) [Network Empire: hb/Ian McQue/Shutterstock]
  • Station Zero (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2018) [Network Empire: hb/Ian McQue/Shutterstock]

Utterly Dark

individual titles (selected)

  • Here Lies Arthur (London: Scholastic Press, 2007) [hb/Getty Images]
  • Cakes in Space (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2014) [hb/Sarah McIntyre]


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