Monday, March 31, 2008

Ex Libris: Jay Lake's Mainspring

Versatility is the best way to describe one of the new stars of speculative fiction Jay Lake and this is evident in his books.

At the moment, Lake has three novels out and all three are unlike each other as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I haven't read Lake's first book Rocket Science but it seems to channel Ray Bradbury a hell of a lot, with its post-World War 2 setting and low-tech science. On the other hand, Trial of Flowers, which I did read, is a fine introduction to Lake to the ranks of the New Weird that I can see Jeff Vandermeer and China Mieville clapping Lake on the back and shaking his hand as he steps on board.

So after writing two different kinds of books, what does Lake do? He writes a third kind: Mainspring (2007).

In this book, Lake runs away with the 'God as Watchmaker' idea and creates a whole universe wherein 19th-century Earth and the other planets run on brass tracks around the Sun and angels are clockwork creations. Clockmaker's apprentice Hethor Jacques is charged by a brass Gabriel to seek the Key Perilous because the universe is winding down and Man must rewind it again or else. This sends Hethor into a strange rambling adventure through Lake's universe where airships patrol the skies, a towering Equatorial Wall holds crystal cities and mechanoid monsters, and dangers like winged beasts and dark sorcerers are still prevalent.

Finally Hethor opened his eyes.

The angel was still there.

It no longer seemed made of brasswork. Rather, it looked almost human, save for the height, tall as his ceiling at the attic’s peak, close to seven feet. The great wings crowded the angel’s back to sweep close across its body like a cloak, feathers white as a swan. Its skin was pale as Hethor’s own, but the face was narrow, shaped like the nib of a fountain pen, with a pointed chin and gleaming black eyes. The lines and planes of the angel’s visage were sheer masterwork, finer than the statues of saints in the great churches of New Haven.

Hethor held his breath, afraid to even share the air with such perfection. No dream, this, but perhaps yet a nightmare.

This book has been described as a clockwork story, a subset of the steampunk category though the latter is also apt given the number of steam machines in the story. (Though the punk appendage may seem misleading since Hethor doesn't really upset the status quo but that's another topic altogether...) However, given the change of setting midway through the book, I thought Lake's book was more Jules Vernes-esque with a smattering of Jonathan Swift as evidenced by Lake's refutation of Hethor's 19th-century view of the world.

All in all, an interesting read and-- given the rather semi-open ending-- a universe to look forward to when the sequel comes out. (Rating: 3 paws out of 4)

4 comments:

Eldritch00 said...
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Eldritch00 said...

I've always been meaning to read Jay Lake. Your review here (and in that older entry where you list books that all seem interesting to me--even The Blade Itself, which might surprise you if you knew that I'm not really much into that kind of fantasy) only makes me want to do so even more. Are these available here, or did you have to acquire them via special order?

Charles said...

I got Mainspring (which is what Joey's reading) from Powerbooks Greenbelt. I guess the rest have to be special ordered (me and Joey emptied Booktopia's inventory of Lake books).

banzai cat said...

eldritch: well, as charles said, most of the stuff I get locally thought around 10%-15% I order abroad either via Booktopia or through people I know. Lake's Mainspring is available in most Powerbook shops as hardbound but this one I borrowed from charles, due to lack of funds alas.

And yes, Joe Abercrombie is also a good recoomendation! (Hey, you got me into hard SF, I'll get you into epic fantasy, right?)

charles: Hehe we did, didn't we? Maybe we should have buttons from Jay Lake reading something like "Jay Lake fan club, RP chapter."