Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
Engrossing, enjoyable and raises some fascinating issues
on 19 June 2005
As an fond science fiction / fantasy reader, I enjoyed this book immensely (I should add this is my first K J Parker novel, so I may not have sufficient experience to notice the formulaic nature mentioned by those who have read all the author's works). Parker manages the traditional problem found in such works rather well, this being the difficult task of fleshing out the new world created and explaining all the little details necessary to fully understand the plot, without simultaneously slowing the plot to a crawl in order to make room for the potted histories and observations - on those occasions where there is significant slowdown, the supplementary information is always interesting enough for this not to cause annoyance. The book is a satisfying length but sufficiently engrossing overall not to feel over-long. I also found a good balance between personal character interactions and observations on the larger interactions between whole societies, so that the reader finds himself empathising equally well with individual protagonists (on all sides), and with the political clashing of the various factions. There are no cardboard cut-out villains or heroes to be found here. Some characters can perhaps seem rather single-minded sometimes, but one must remember the nature of most of the cultures described - a non-technological society has comparatively little real need for lateral thinking or creativity, so tradition holds more sway and keeps things running the same way time and again, and for the reasons explained in the text the society of the engineers is also held rigid by tradition.
As an engineer, I found the Mezentine (engineer's) society in the novels fascinating - true engineering is rarely given proper recognition, in many English-speaking countries at least, and for many the word "engineer" is erroneously synonymous with a fellow who wears filthy blue overalls, carries a huge greasy spanner and drops his aitches. In this novel, Parker really makes the effort to show the intense mental effort & mindset necessary for the successful engineer, and how it can easily rival that of the more well known "difficult" professions - the military strategist, the politician, etc, although the book's protagonist does still have great skill in the realm of tools, stock and swarf.
To have created the notion of a society where the engineers are regarded more highly than anyone else is in itself fascinating, but more so is the apparently perverse, dogmatic opposition to innovation held by this society. At first, this would appear nonsensical to anyone, but on second thought one begins to wonder whether our own, completely unrestricted pursuit of new technology is realy the only way to go - technology sometimes seems to change so fast one ends up spending almost constantly in order to keep up with new technology as old standards are forgotten and cast aside - how does this effort compare to that expended using a imperfect or outdated, but otherwise workable technology? Many other such issues arise in the course of this book, and the more philosophically minded reader will find a whole extra level to engage with this book in addition to it being highly inventive science-fiction and an engrossing story.
Despite being the first part of a trilogy, Devices & Desires has a good ending - all plot threads that one would expect to be tied up are, but there is still plenty of open-endedness left in the story to drive the next two books forward. Upon finishing one gets the feeling one might have after completing a particular era in a history volume - the unit is discrete and satisfying in isolation, but one still feels the urge to read further, either the next day or years later. Compare this to certain other sagas where each book provides too much closure, and every succeeding volume has to work hard to reopen the story and draw the reader back in.
I look forward to the next volume in this series!