Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Clockwork Earth

Yes, I was on vacation. Yes, I did some summer reading.

Not coincidentally, the second book I want to talk about also falls into the not exactly crowded genre of steampunk fantasy.

Both books have that in common and also the fact that they explore worlds that are as close to unique as anything I have read recently. There, however, the similarity ends.

Swanwick explores steampunk Faerie and, indeed, 'Dragons of Babel' is a fairy story.

Jay Lake's Mainspring is a religious allegory. Or is it? Even after reading it, I'm not sure. His world postulates a literal clockwork Earth. Literal. The sun is a lamp and the solar system resembles a Medieval orrery. This premise is delivered in a matter of fact way that makes it believable (unless you stop and think about it...there are a couple of holes in the 'science'). But then, who cares about science. Mainspring is emphatically fantasy.

Fantasy that explores the idea of god in a world that was clearly *made*. Unfortunately, while Swanwick is a mature writer at the top of his game, Mainspring is Lake's first novel. It shows. He's guilty of falling for the far too natural temptation of stopping the story to show off his worldbuilding and some of his characterization is, frankly, flat. However, he does not lack talent, and the reader will be relieved to hear that while it is the first book in a series, the book stands nicely on its own. It also has a distinct Oz-like quality. (This book is, incidentally, a couple of years old now, with a sequel out and also a third book...I'm going to have to track them down).

Although not of the quality of 'Dragons of Babel', this one is a fun read...albeit one that might potentially offend some readers. I still haven't worked out which ones.