The Forever Engine Paperback – 14 Jan 2014
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About the Author
Frank Chadwick is a the "New York Times" number one best-selling nonfiction author of over two hundred books, articles, and columns on military history and military affairs, as well as over one hundred military and science fiction board and role-playing games. His game Space: 1889 was the first Steampunk game and remains a cult favorite. His other game writing credits include legendary fantasy game En Garde!, groundbreaking SF role playing game Traveller: The New Era and many others. Chadwick's SF novels include science fiction adventure "How Dark the World Becomes "and steampunk masterpiece "The Forever Engine," both from Baen Books.
Top Customer Reviews
Then it seems to change into a historical mountain warfare travelogue complete with an overabundance of detail. It also features a hero who starts out as vaguely plausible but then seems to turn into a human wikipedia. He can speak the precursor to modern Turkish and at the same time calculate the intergalactic distance differential of the earth and sun over a hundred year period. In his head. The pace slows down a little bit too much for my tastes and it would have been good if the support cast had been a bit more human (most of them seem to have one side and that's all you ever see of them).
All in all, I am a little disappointed. Fantastic start that, for me, petered out around halfway into the book.
ps I just re-read my review title and I wasn't trying to be punny :p
However I gave it only 4 stars because there are a few things that I have reservations about, this is common with most "steampunk" stories though
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It all started with a coin, sort of.
Not just any old coin mind you but a Roman counterfeit coin. Maybe!
Jack Fargo, an American History Professor, and an ex Afghanistan War combatant is called to the United Kingdom to help investigate what is happening. He is a man with a talent, 'an ability to connect the dots.'
Unfortunately a gigantic explosion of some sort occurs, a temporal-effect wave, and Jack is is flung back to an alternate past of 1888, right into that 'Indiana Jones type' [exploit]. (Jack's word here was somewhat stronger). Flying machines are ironclads and dirigibles. Mars has been visited since the 18770's and is a source of the material liftwood that assists with flight.
Names like Baron Renfrew, Edison and Tesla pop up amongst others.
We have a mysterious attractive spy for the French Commune, Gabrielle Courbiere, who is so focused on things that she doesn't even acknowledge what to anyone else would be a set down. This takes the wind out of the sail of her would be taunters very effectively. Her interaction with others at times is quite amusing.
Jack's quest is to find a way to return to his own time and his daughter Sarah. His search will take him through France, to Bavaria, Serbia and beyond with a group of different yet interesting characters.
An excellent understanding of both the history and politics of our times and of those of the past in order to make the connections and alternate happenings believable is crucial. All kudos to Chadwick. He has demonstrated that ability in spades.
The What If's certainly open up a wonderful panorama of nuanced possibilities.
A cleverly written steampunk novel, that is at times tragic, at others humorous, but mostly a jolly good read that kept me up longer than I should have been.
A NetGalley ARC
All the four 4-star & 5-star reviews so far are exactly right.
Jack Fargo is a university ancient history professor called upon to authenticate a Roman coin of mysterious origin. In the process, he ends up thrust into the past of a fantastical nature: turn of the century England where Mars has been colonized, steamships rule the airways, and famous persons of the era have completely different agendas. As Fargo gets caught up in the new world's politics, he will have to fight to save that world - all the while trying to get back to his daughter in his own time.
Right off the bat, we have a main character who time travels and is named Fargo (get it?), who specializes in ancient history but spends most of the book either using his Kendo techniques, discussing high end physics, being knowledgeable about all kinds of English politicians and world personages, holding discussions about era militia and military arsenal and equipment, and speaking some 15 languages (all of which come in handy at various points in the story). His background? He was a soldier in Afghanistan and is a teacher of history. Throw in a sexy Frenchwoman foil and an uptight and inept rival Fargo can ridicule often and it was all a bit much.
But we are also subjected to tedious discussions of minutiae - from specific ordnances recognized from afar to Bavarian politics and politicians. If the Victorian era people need an answer - Fargo's got it, in detail, and we will have to read it.
I appreciate the work the author spent into the era. But at the same time, I really don't want to read about every single piece of it. I wish the author had been more circumspect about the research or at least not made his main character so knowledgeable and perfect that it strained credibility far too much. That, or an editor had reined him in a bit so we get a story and not a dissertation.
In all, I give this three stars because I'm sure there are many who wouldn't mind trolling through an alternate universe Victorialand. But for me, I'm looking for characters I can relate to who actually don't have built-in solutions to every problem. The story was so passively told that the main character was much more a construct than the robotic clockwork assassins he has to fight.
Received as an ARC from the publisher.
The book begins with Jack Fargo, ancient history professor, being called in as a consultant on a secret experiment being conducted in England. Even though Jack is just there to consult on a mysterious Roman coin, he gets caught up in an unfortunate accident that sends him shooting backwards through time to the year 1888. However, not only has Jack slipped backward in time but he has also left our reality for a parallel one.
Once our brave professor regains his bearing, he finds himself in an alternative turn of the century Victorian England, where the South has won the American Civil War, flying steamships dominate the skies, space travel is an accepted part of every day life, and there is even an earth colony on Mars. Not only that, but Jack immediately finds himself immersed in a convoluted political situation, forced to choose sides in this world’s conflicts, and finds himself actively fighting to save this world from its own problems – even as he desperately seeks a way back to his own time.
Overall, this book is just what I assumed it would be: an action adventure tale wrapped in the standard steampunk surroundings of steamships, gadgets, airships, and Victorian England with more than a dash of intrigue added. The characters in The Forever Engine were mostly interesting, even if they were a bit one dimensional at times, and Mr. Chadwick does a good job of adding in famous people from the time period albeit changing them enough to suite their alternative reality world. The action sequences in the book were adequately described, and a measure of suspense was maintained throughout the novel. However, where Mr. Chadwick excels is in the massive amount of history and background material that he provides about this wonderful steampunk world. Here a reader is given vast amounts of information on the world, its history, and its weapons of war until the setting becomes as real to you as our own modern day reality.
With all that being said, I had some issues with The Forever Engine that I’d like to explore briefly. Feel free to stop now and not have to read anything negative about this novel if it is a favorite of yours. If, after carefully consideration on your part, you decide to continue reading, please do not get upset by any criticisms you might see in the next few paragraphs, because - like Stephen King at the end of The Dark Tower Saga - I am warning you that you might not like the ending here.
1) Jack is way over powered and his skill set too conveniently correct for his adventure. I realize that is a strange things to say, but let me explain what I mean. You see, it was just chance that brought Jack Fargo to the secret laboratory on that fateful day when he was sent back in time, but in all honest, it must have been fate, because no other time traveler could have been more suited for the trip ahead. Who else except for Jack Fargo would have had the exact sort of skills that he needed to survive in this alternative steampunk world? I can’t think of anyone. And not only does Jack survive but he excels. I mean, once he is in the alternative world, Jack uses his vast knowledge of history, physics, political persons, era specific military equipment, and his fluence in numerous languages to survive and vanquish his enemies. All I can say is Thank God the lab “accident” happened when a man so immensely suited to this time traveling predicament just happened to be there. I mean, think what would have happened if the janitor had been sent back through time.
2) Setting aside the issue of Jack’s skill set for a moment, let us turn to his characterization in this novel. Basically, Jack is your classic Hollywood action adventure hero. This guy pops out of nowhere claiming he is from an alternative world, but instead of being labeled crazy or whatever, he is quickly accepted into the “cool” group. Not only is Jack in the cool group of people, but somehow, he is also the smartest guy in the group, the toughest guy in the group, the guy with the most modern, enlightened sensibilities, and the cool guy who gets the most beautiful, bad ass female as his girlfriend. I mean, Jack has it made. How could he fail?
3) This novel is told from Jack’s first person perspective. I generally do not like first person narratives. It is a personal issue I have. Now, I admit that there have been first person narratives that I have liked (See Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns,) but most of the time, I find these types of novels disappointing. Unfortunately, The Forever Engine was one of the first person narratives I did not enjoy. Just one of those things, I suppose.
4) As I mentioned above, this novel is filled to overflowing with details about this richly imagined steampunk world. As a lover of history and alternative history, I adore this sort of stuff. However, an author has to walk a fine line when spoon feeding a reader vast quantities of lore, because if you provide too much the book readers like a role playing campaign source book, and to me, Mr. Chadwick went past this unseen line, becoming so determined to regurgitate facts that the actual plot and characters became lost in the world building.
Even with its many problems, I decided to give The Forever Engine three stars. It is probably closer to 2 ½ stars, but I am giving Mr. Chadwick credit for the marvelous alternate universe he has dreamed up. This imaginative world is well worth reading about, and hopefully, in the next story, the main character will not be so “over powered” and have to actually struggle with the problems facing him. All in all, the novel is a solid first book in a new series (Does anyone actually believe this is a one shot?) and it definitely has potential going forward.
Netgalley and the publisher provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.