August 7, 2008


Mainspring by Jay Lake

Greetings all.

The book I bring you today is yet another tome that I was turned on to by a post over at BoingBoing.
While I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado of steampunk/clockpunk (and PLEASE spare me a corrective post delineating the subtle but important differences between the two), but I do like what I’ve read and seen.
Thus, when I read about Jay Lake’s ‘Mainspring’ I filed it away for future reference.
A few weeks later the wife and I happened to make an unscheduled visit to the local Barnes and Noble (to avail ourselves of the restrooms, if you must know) and, in the kind of coincidence that seers and conspiracy theorists lay awake at night pondering, there, next to the bathroom door, was the sci fi/fantasy section of the store.
I was almost done with whatever it was I was reading at the time, so I figured I take advantage of the timing and see if ‘Mainspring’ were available. At first all I could find was Lake’s current novel (‘Escapement’, which I’m reading now), but then I decided to check out the ‘new in paperback’ shelf, and there it was.
The coolest (and simultaneously the most difficult) thing about ‘Mainspring’ is navigating the alternative universe Lake has created for his characters. Though the time period is the beginning of the 20th century, and the locale New Haven, Connecticut, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The vast majority of the western world (including all of North America) is dominated by the British Empire, the rest ruled by the Chinese.
The equator of the earth is marked by a huge wall, the top of which serves as the seat for the gears on which the world turns. Everything south of the equator is pretty much terra incognita and the cause for much speculation, as well as the target for possible empire building by both of the major powers.
The hero of the book, a clockmaker’s apprentice named Hethor Jacques is sent on a quest by the angel Gabriel (the world in ‘Mainspring’ turns on a fanciful reinterpretation of Christian dogma, which in itself is cause for all kinds of conflict between warring forces).
Lake does a fairly good job of establishing, and elaborating upon his remarkable framing device. There are points in the book where the tone of the book ‘stutters’ a little bit, but he has a lot to establish here, so a little bit of unevenness is certainly better than another three-hundred pages of exposition. I especially like Lake’s ability to maintain suspense using a kind of motivational ambiguity about many of the characters.
I won’t spoil anything, but I’m about halfway into ‘Escapement’ and I’ll say that things have evened out considerably (especially since two of the three major characters in ‘Escapement’ were introduced in ‘Mainspring’).
Now reading – Escapement by Jay Lake.

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