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St. Martin’s Press, 2010

An Unsolicited Review

As I approached the end of this book, I immediately wanted to turn around and start it again.  This is the first book to do that to me ever.  It will join Starship Troopers and The Lord of The Rings as “books I’ll re-read for the rest of my life.”

Imagine you’re an artist.  You’ve tried for years to realize a specific project, only to have the final result come close to what you intended, but never actually quite manage what you are after.  It has become your personal quest to find out how that piece fails each time you attempt it, and so you start over and over again, and fail to find the voice that speaks to you about it.  You can’t figure it out, but you know that it must be possible to realize, if you could only figure out how.

Now, you go to a gallery, and in this gallery is another artist who works in a similar medium, and he is also interested in your subject.  But as you look over his attempts, you realize that it works.  He has captured everything about the subject despite the limitations of the art form.  You can’t find any flaw in the work, and it is a perfect, absolutely beautiful version of the project you’ve struggled with for so long.

Now, when this happens, there are two things you could do.

You could give up.  You could wallow in despair that you were never able to bring your art to that level.  You could get angry that someone else did it before you, and that once you take what you’ve learned from experiencing his work, you’ll just be a copy-cat with no originality.  You could give up your art (and in extreme cases, your life) out of the despair born from the knowledge that you failed to accomplish what this other artist has accomplished so easily.

Or you could become inspired.  If one person can do this, then two can.  If two can do it, then several can, and if several can, there is a good chance that somehow, you’ll be able to do it as well.  You can leave the gallery, pick up your tools, and finally create the masterpiece you’ve been trying so hard to accomplish now that you know it is possible to do it.

I choose the second path.  As a writer yet to be published, I found this book to be very inspiring.  Reading this book, I finally found the voice I wanted to give my characters.  The blend of modern tightness, with an older, more illustrative style.  The book reads like some older books, where the authors not only tried to tell the story, but to also be captivating.  Nearly every page contained at least one (and often several) passages that were a delight to savor.  Were I not reading a library copy, I would have highlighted passages as I went – something I’ve only done once before, in ‘Johnathan Strange and Mister Norrell.’

The story could be called ‘Steampunk’, but I prefer ‘Post-Steampunk.’  In the world of the story, there are mechanical men, recordings are still made on wax cylinders, flying machines often take the form of airships.  But at the same time, the mechanical men can do almost anything. Imagine everything that you think of when you hear the word ‘Steampunk’ but then continue forward to the modern day as if that style of technology had evolved instead of computers.  The world would be a very different place, and you’d be imagining Dexter Palmer’s world.

But the story is not directly about him , or his daughter, Miranda, whom he keeps locked away from the rest of the world.  It’s about Harold Winslow, a humble writer of greeting card messages.  The story is about Harold’s life from the age of ten as his path continually crosses those of Prospero and Miranda.  It is Harold’s memoirs, written to an unknown future reader as he remains trapped aboard the good ship “Chrysalis”, an airship of Taligent’s own design.  Harold recalls how he was invited to Miranda’s tenth birthday party along with ninety-nine other children.  He recalls how he encounters Miranda ten years later, rescuing her from kidnappers, about his last day before being trapped on the zeppelin, and then how he came to decide to kill Propsero in the moments before boarding the zeppelin.  These are not spoilers.  Harold tells you up front that he has killed Prospero, and the story builds to that final decision.

This book has many strange scenes within its covers.  Scenes that would more accurately be described as surreal, or dreamlike.  An automatic bronzing, a real unicorn (not a machine!), mechanical monsters, men dressed as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.  And as each section closes, the world has changed a little bit more, becoming more dependent on Prospero’s machines, a little louder, a little dirtier.

But through it all is a love story.  Harold’s love for the Virgin Queen (Miranda), and the length’s he’ll go to to save her from the clutches of the villain.

I could go on about this book for ages.  But I run the risk of seriously spoiling this book for you.  Go, read it.  Enjoy it.  Leave a comment here if you liked the book, or if you did not, either answer is fine.  We are all, after all, different.  Myself, I am glad I read the book despite the cover blurb, which is the only part of the book that disappointed me.  I picked it up on a whim, and gave it a try.  That’s all you have to do, to Dream of Perpetual Motion.

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