Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Dream of Perpetual Motion

From Goodreads
Doesn't this title just grab you? I remember when I came across it in the FirstReads list. I didn't even know what it was about but the title, the possibility in the title, made me notice it. Once I read it was a steampunk novel based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, I put my name in the hat and won!

Harold lives in an alternate world of mechanical men and infinite possibility thanks to the inventor Prospero Taligent, living in Taligent Tower in the center of Xeroville. At age 10, Harold encounters Prospero and his adopted daughter Miranda and sets himself on a path that will define the rest of his life and lead to his imprisonment on a zeppelin endless circling the earth, propelled by Prospero's last and greatest invention, the perpetual motion machine, a machine Harold knows is failing.  In his imprisonment, Harold tells his story with the help of Miranda, a disembodied voice coming from within the ship, recordings of the cryogenically frozen Prospero and the notebooks of the mad Caliban. The reader then follows the story up to the moment when we first met Harold, imprisoned by his own hand, completing a wish Prospero designed for him as a child.

If that sounds nutty, it is. This story is very non-linear and confusing at times. The mixed voices though keep a reader on her toes and even after I had figured out where the story was heading, it was the way the author decided to tell me the story that kept me reading. The characters are mostly unlikable. Harold is weak and unheroic, taking the easy way out always. Miranda is confused and cruel. Her life in the dark tower has made her incapable of understanding herself. Prospero is insanely sane and Caliban remains a product of his creator, brilliant but vicious. And yet, I still found myself wishing against their characters that these people would somehow escape the paths laid for them. There are moments when the characters themselves realize if they just took a different direction at that very moment, they might have a chance but they never do. Usually that would drive me mad as a reader but the world these characters inhabit seem to call for this sort of terminal weakness. Their world, as fantastic and wonderful as it is, is cruel and unforgiving. The Age of the Machine required that they kill the Age of Miracles to reach it and therefore cannot be a kind master to the humans who willingly walked away from believing in the unbelievable. 

Steampunk is fun just because it requires you to check history and fact completely at the door. To believe that a Victorian era could have mechanical men and flying cars requires a reader to dig into the alternate world, to understand its different sense of humanity and I think that is what Dream of Perpetual Motion does wonderfully. It does create a completely different humanity value and I think that is what lets me enjoy it even when the characters are acting in the exact opposite that I would usually like. They are heroes in their own world; or the best version of a hero that world could create. It was a great book to ponder as I read and something wholly different for me that turned out to be a lot of fun to read.

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