- Paperback: 452 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; Lst ed. edition (12 May 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312872569
- ISBN-13: 978-0312872564
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.3 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,072,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Souls in the Great Machine (Greatwinter Trilogy) Paperback – 12 May 2000
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"A stunning idea--the Calculator's as real as if McMullen had built it in his backyard--with an utterly convincing setting, breathtaking developments, and a captivating narrative." --"Kirkus Reviews "(pointer review)
"Decidedly original, sometimes whimsical, and captivating, this is a genuine tour de force." --"Booklist "(starred review)
"Fast-paced and amusing, McMullen's latest novel is an action-packed adventure in the tradition of world-building SF." --"Publishers Weekly"
"I don't know how many years of practice Sean McMullen has had, but he writes like his own expert....A great machine in concept, and a great book in the reading. Highly recommended." --"San Diego Union-Tribune"
"This book gives us one of the most distinctive and unforgettable Down Under futures ever created." --"The Bulletin"
A stunning idea--the Calculator's as real as if McMullen had built it in his backyard--with an utterly convincing setting, breathtaking developments, and a captivating narrative. "Kirkus Reviews (pointer review)"
Decidedly original, sometimes whimsical, and captivating, this is a genuine tour de force. "Booklist (starred review)"
Fast-paced and amusing, McMullen's latest novel is an action-packed adventure in the tradition of world-building SF. "Publishers Weekly"
I don't know how many years of practice Sean McMullen has had, but he writes like his own expert....A great machine in concept, and a great book in the reading. Highly recommended. "San Diego Union-Tribune"
This book gives us one of the most distinctive and unforgettable Down Under futures ever created. "The Bulletin""
"A stunning idea--the Calculator's as real as if McMullen had built it in his backyard--with an utterly convincing setting, breathtaking developments, and a captivating narrative." --Kirkus Reviews (pointer review)
"Decidedly original, sometimes whimsical, and captivating, this is a genuine tour de force." --Booklist (starred review)
"Fast-paced and amusing, McMullen's latest novel is an action-packed adventure in the tradition of world-building SF." --Publishers Weekly
"I don't know how many years of practice Sean McMullen has had, but he writes like his own expert....A great machine in concept, and a great book in the reading. Highly recommended." --San Diego Union-Tribune
"This book gives us one of the most distinctive and unforgettable Down Under futures ever created." --The Bulletin
About the Author
Sean McMullen is one of the leading Australian SF authors to emerge during the 1990s, having won more than a dozen national awards in his homeland. In addition, he has sold several dozen short stories to magazines such as Analog, Interzone, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, and was co-author of Strange Constellations, a History of Australian SF. He established himself in the American market with the publication of the Greatwinter trilogy (comprised of Souls in the Great Machine, The Miocene Arrow, and Eyes of the Calculor). His fiction has been translated into Polish, French, and Japanese. The settings for Sean's work range from the Roman Empire, through Medieval Europe, to cities of the distant future. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from Melbourne University, and post-graduate diplomas in computer science, information science and business management. He is currently doing a PhD in Medieval Fantasy Literature at Melbourne University, where he is also the deputy instructor at the campus karate club, and a member of the fencing club. Before he began writing, Sean spent several years in student reviews and theatre, and was lead singer in three rock and folk bands. After singing in several early music groups and choirs, he spent two years in the Victorian State Opera before he began writing. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Trish and daughter Catherine.
Top customer reviews
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The worldbuilding is quite impressive. Set almost two millennia from now, the world is still recovering from a nuclear winter. In Australia a low-tech civilization putters along, with power resting in the hands of librarians. A new head overlibrarian is elected and brings change, as she ruthlessly builds "The Calculator", a primitive computer using imprisoned people as circuits, and extends a series of communication towers across the various fiefdoms and emirates. The initial exploration of this is quite interesting, but as the overlibrarian's power grows, McMullen starts adding more and more storylines to the mix.
It seems that an ancient sunshade being formed by nanotechnology is threatening to block out the sun and initiate a new Ice Age, unless the overlibrarian can do something. Then there's the barbarian horde being mustered by one of her former protégés—for reasons that are never really clear to me, other than the need to have a big war in the book. Then there's the mysterious force that sweeps across the land intermittently, causing all who aren't tied down to walk due south forever. Then there's a whole genetics subplot. Not to mention an awfully confusing series of romances and affairs, you really do need a scorecard to keep track of everyone.
The ideas are all individually really interesting, it's just that there are too many of them at once and the characters are too flimsy to carry them. Coincidence comes into play all too often, as characters are constantly running into each other, and too many of them are cast from the same obsessive mold and act altogether arbitrarily. It doesn't help that there are abrupt leaps of time in the middle of chapters, out of nowhere will pop up the declaration that five years has passed, for example. Also, the book is badly in need of a map. Geography is an integral part of the plot, and without a map to clarify things, the reader is often literally lost.
I salute the McMullen's imagination for ideas, but this book is just too long and haphazard to properly enjoy. I doubt I'll be seeking out it's sequels, The Miocene Arrow and Eyes of the Calculor.
But... It's an absolutely gripping read which I was saving for a long-distance air flight but found I had half-finished before taking off. McMullen knows his science (the "calculor" is an inspired concept) and the questionable bits such as "the call" are well enough integrated to suspend disbelief. Unlike many books, the characters actually change and develop over time, though the abrupt switch of one key player from goody to baddy is never explained - if, like Charles Sheffield, McMullen were to rewrite his books for later editions, this should be a top priority.
But enough of the carping. Compared to the over-hyped Alistair McLeod, SITGM shows McMullen to be capable of developing a good old-style hard SF saga set in an area he knows and loves. It would be churlish to give it anything less than 5 stars.
Oh, by the way, if you see this in a bookstore, read the page-and-a-half prologue to provide a taste of the book. If that grabs you, buy it from wherever. I'm getting the two sequels right now.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
There is a LOT going on in the Greatwinter Trilogy and Sean McMullen plunges readers right into the thick of it. While the first book can be hard to grasp for the first few chapters, you'll be glad if you stick with it. Sci-Fi readers will be no strangers to post-apocalypse Earths but McMullen's take is unique and imaginative, giving us a bunch of antagonists, both human and artificial. Trying to take on everything happening in this book in a two or three paragraph review is impossible but I thought the mix of plot devices worked well.
The biggest factors in positive and negative thoughts on this book seems to be the characters and I can see why. Personally, I liked the characters quite a bit and thought they developed throughout. Antagonists become protagonists and there's a thick, grey area between "good" and "bad." In short, most of the point-of-view characters have ambition they don't conceal and will do whatever it takes to forward their agenda, usually for their version of "the greater good." There are points when some characters seem to take actions wildly out of character (especially near the middle of the book - keep in mind this was once two shorter novellas turned into one larger book) in a Dues Ex Machina'ed way that left me looking for an explanation of why they'd take such a strange turn.
Having read the rest of the books in this series before writing my review for the first, I'd sum up my review by saying that while Souls in the Great Machine has its flaws, it's a solid introduction to a fantastic world and series.
Aside: For readers NOT living in Australia, a little familiarity with the Down Under may help with the expansive geography of where things are in this book.
Iain Mavro Coggins is the author of Lost Apple, available at Amazon.
It's all here: Civilization disrupted by a global "call". Global warming. Nuclear winter. Nanotechnology. Religous dogma as a response to ecological disaster. Dueling as an instrument of social stability. Librarians as a social elite. Librarians re-inventing the computer without access to industrial technology. The econmic infranstructure of passenger-powered railways. Genetically-enhanced cetaceans out for revenge against humanity. Social consequences of dealing with genetically enhanced cetaceans. Humans genetically engineered to resist the "call" of genetically enhanced cetaceans. Social prejudice against said genetically enhanced humans. Even, heaven help us, a revival of the broad-gauge/standard-gauge railway controversy!
The sad thing is that McMullen has the makings of a first-rate SF writer. He's a good storyteller, and has an eye for detail. Alas, he seems to think that detail is the whole point. The story itself simply gets lost. If McMullen concentrated on a reasonable number of premises, and on the fate of a manageable number of characters, he could really amount to something.
Alas again. He has no incentive to do so. Most SF readers have come to view the form as a kind of self-hypnonsis. The more bloated and out-of-control a story is, the better it sells. I predict that McMullen will sell very well.
I highly recommend this. Some of the best sci-fi I have read
with a very interesting primative high-tech twist.
A steam-punk like world!!