I enjoyed this immensely. I am a long time sci-fi fan and quite new to the steampunk genre. I have read a few compilations of short stories but this was the first full length steampunk novel I have read. I won't spoil it by revealing any of the plot but it is very good read, even poetic in places.
This is not a typical steampunk novel. A lot of steampunk is plot driven and strongly focused on aspects of action and adventure. If this is the kind of thing you are looking for you will probably be disappointed with 'The Dream of Perpetual Motion'. If, however, you like the depth and beauty of great writing then you will love it. Here the steampunk and fantastical elements are used as a highly imaginative vehicle for delivering a narrative that has more in common with contemporary literary fiction than any sci fi genre. The style is very literary and impressionistic with shifting time frames, perspectives and narrative voices. The continual allusions to Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' are very clever, but if you don't know the play it won't spoil your enjoyment of this novel. This is definitely a novel that transcends the genre it is written in and is therefore not so much a great steampunk novel, but a great novel.
I should point out here that Mr Palmer is no relation! Though, I must confess that spying the name when this came up on the "recommended for you" section on Amazon, my interest was piqued by the shared surname (sad, I know).
Dexter Palmer's debut novel is excellent and well worth giving a chance.
It's a sort of fantastical alt-history told (it's set sometime around the early 20th Century), with some very obvious literary allusions - mainly The Oxford Shakespeare: The Tempest (Oxford World's Classics). Not to say that it's un-enjoyable if you aren't familiar with the Shakespeare, though it does help. We see the allusion through the naming of two of the main characters (Prospero and Miranda) and the situation that the narrator, Harold finds himself in.
Prospero, in the novel, is at the start dead, but we learn that he is responsible for the shape of much of the world around him. He creates all manner of technological marvels, including mechanical men and camera obscuras. There are early hints, though, that in doing so, he may have destroyed something more wonderful.
Prospero's death, we learn early on, was brought about by Harold, and he is forced to live aboard the great airship containing Miranda (Prospero's adopted daughter) perpetually orbiting the world and Prospero's cryogenically frozen corpse as a punishment for bringing about Prospero's death.
From the beginning, Harold narrates the story through his journals, in flashback: so we learn of his current predicament, then work from the start to how he got there. Harold's character is the lens which we see all this through: he's not always entirely reliable. He (we learn that his job was composing greetings cards) always has an air of someone that believe he's doing things below his station, even when admitting to his inadequacies. Quite early on in the novel, the perspective then shifts to the third person (this is at around the time that the novel properly starts to recount the tale of how he got to be there. Well, I suppose we already know that, as Harold is pretty clear on that, but if it stopped there, it'd be a pretty short book!) There are little interludes throughout the book where it returns to the first person (Harold) once again to give an insight into Harold's feelings (or lack-of).
Granted these days, this isn't a particularly new literary device, and the world (obviously) despite it's sfnal/fantastical setting is decidedly a retro one. Equally, the meditations on life and love can be found in any number of books. What, I think, separates this from many others, is the skill that Palmer brings to this. The writing is simply very good. Furthermore, I think the deliberate invocation of the Shakespeare lends it a sufficiently knowing air that to complain about it being derivative would be to miss the point. Naturally, if he did it badly, it would be a different matter.
The other thing I'd mention is that the novel isn't in anyway po-faced. It's, in places, quite witty and it's clear that the man writing it has a sense of humour.
It's an enjoyable read and I'd recommend it whole-heartedly: it doesn't particularly break any new ground, but it is an excellent read. I look forward to Dexter Palmer's future novels.