- Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition (2 April 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765356376
- ISBN-13: 978-0765356376
- Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 3.3 x 17 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,272,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Escapement (Clockwork Earth) Mass Market Paperback – 2 Apr 2009
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"Lively and thought-provoking...Lake effectively anneals steampunk with geo-mechanical magic in an allegorical matrix of empire building and Victorian natural science." --"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) on "Escapement"
About the Author
Jay Lake lives and works in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of over two hundred short stories, four collections, and a chapbook, along with several novels. In 2004, Jay won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
Top customer reviews
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Imaginative certainly applies in spades to this series. The Earth and the other celestial bodies follow visible geared "tracks" through the solar system, with the connection points being at their equators. On Earth the equatorial track is an enormous uncrossable 'Wall' and divides the north and south hemispheres. The northern hemisphere is geographically identical to our Earth, but has a 19th century-level civilisation which is controlled by two mighty empires, British and Chinese, using flying ships and submarines in an alternate-world built around steampunk technologies. What lies in the southern hemisphere is unknown. Because the "machinery of existence" is so obvious, religion is powerful but changed: for Christians, for example, their 'Christ' died on a Wheel, not a Cross.
In Mainspring, Hathor, a lowly apprentice, is given a quest by an angel to find a 'Key' and rewind the 'Mainspring' of the world. Overcoming all sorts of opposition, from jealous, powerful rivals to a potpourri of strange creatures and landscapes, he achieves his quest. Hathor is absent from 'Escapement'. Its main characters are Yale University librarian Emily Childress and Chief Angus al-Wazir from the airship Bassett (both of whom appear in Mainspring), and Boaz the Brass Man (a robot), and Paolina Barthes, a child prodigy, who lives on the Wall itself. All these characters trace paths that eventually cross, and these paths illuminate more of Lake's strange clockwork universe.
As well as the clash of Empires, there is a struggle between two global secret societies who have different views on how to approach their strange world, either to accept it as it is, or try to control it. The two northern Empires, having reached a stalemate, are tring to find a way into the southern hemisphere, the British by means of a giant tunnelling engine, the Chinese via the excavation of old ruins of a city near Singapore, seeking lost knowledge. Paolina is sought by all these factions, as with a device she self-builds called a 'gleam', she can manipulate the workings of the world directly. Originally wanting to escape, she realises how wrong her view of things is: she wants freedom and wisdom but finds both where she least expects. Childress has to impersonate a 'Mask', a high-up in one of the secret societies, but achieves more by being herself. Chief Angus al-Wazir is an agent of the Queen but eventually realises that there are deeper loyalties. The most interesting character is Boaz, who seems to be an emergent AI from a machine civilisation. He is also from the Wall, which seems to house a multitude of races and wonders, like winged people that attack the British drilling expedition and an underground rail system that runs around the equator!
It is the sheer invention displayed that I think makes this novel worth reading. I wonder how all these ideas, threads and characters will converge and work out in 'Pinion' which recently came out in hardback.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
As for the resolution, it was rushed and unsatisfying. You never had the feeling that any of the three parts were in danger, so there was little suspense. I have spent hundreds of pages with these people and you want more than a page saying that she wandered off with a character who is minor if not completely unknown.
1. Read "Mainspring" first. Most of the people who have reviewed "Escapement" on Amazon.com appear not to have read the first book in the trilogy, and I think that has affected both their understanding of and their emotional engagement with the second book. While it is possible to read and mostly understand "Escapement" on its own, the first book eases the reader into the spirit of Lake's work in a way that the second does not.
2. Don't expect a religious tract. This trilogy is a "what if?" story: What if the world was so obviously designed and built by an intelligent hand that nobody could deny the fact? Lake's answer is, essentially, that religion isn't about objective facts, it's about what people make of the objective facts, and even really big, obvious, objective facts can produce many distinct (and possibly warring) subjective interpretations. It's more difficult to say what Lake wants us to make of the magical (and possibly Divine) events that occur, such as the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to young Hethor in "Mainspring", but I (a) hope that he provides some clarification in "Pinion" and (b) think that he's mainly just playing around with his own authorial role as God the Creator of this fictional world.
3. Don't expect pure steampunk, pure clockpunk, or pure anything. I would describe these books as fantasy with steampunk/clockpunk trappings, religious interests, mildly archaic language, and picaresque tendencies, leavened with a bit of science fictional narrative distance and fascination with weird technologies. As a science fiction fan who sometimes reads fantasy and who has no special interest in steampunk or clockpunk, this is fine by me, but readers who are heavily invested in *punk subgenres may be put off.
Lake's Clockwork Trilogy does not represent a major breakthrough in fiction, and I doubt it will bring on many religious epiphanies, but it is (at least in the first two books) well-written, packed with adventure, spiced with nice bits of weirdness, and sufficiently thought-provoking to avoid being filed in the "empty escapism" bin.
This is by no means a bad book but far from a Hugo Award by my estimate. I do like the writing style. As with Gibson's and Sterling's "The Difference Engine" Jay Lake has the Dickensian style of patter down pretty well. He has a consistent voice and has created a nifty elsewhen and peppered it with some interesting characters. But there are some inherent problems as well.
You have three stories running simultaneously with three distinct characters. As others have pointed out, many pages have been spent on the Childress character and she has no real bearing on the outcome of things. On the other end, you are introduced to characters and situations early in the book who are later dropped, but who beg for a greater part in the proceedings.
Another problem I found was that some relatively heavy things happen during the story, but, even though we're told of the impact they have on the characters, we don't feel it. Some of the scenes should have been much more exciting to read given their content.
As I did a minor bit of research on Jay Lake, I found he's written a huge number of short stories and therein might lie the problem. He might need a bit more time to figure out how to use a larger canvas.
This is by no means a bad read. It just needs a bit of honing.
1, Writing style - not as transparent as I would like. I kept running into things that just made me stop and think the author was trying too hard. A bit like if the comic book guy from The Simpsons decided to write an alternative history piece of science fiction.
2, Characters left dangling - I understand this is a trilogy, but I still feel like major characters in the book were just dropped with no explanation. I found this pretty unsatisfying.
That having been said, the overall concept is very sound and well-imagined. Without giving too much away, the plot weaves together a young prodigy, an old librarian and a surly military man on an adventure that covers large aamounts of Northern Earth. It's mostly a chase novel, with very little in the way of actual plot (or plot resolution). That having been said, I really enjoyed some parts of the plot and I finished the book. Maybe it should get 3.5 stars.