Caveat

With regards the reviews I write, I feel it is necessary to provide this caveat.
The initial section right up to the button that opens the full synopsis is the teaser where I try to give a look into the book without revealing too much.

The section within the button is a full synopsis. No detail will be hidden at all.

Be warned!
The final section (Food for thought) is a series of thoughts on the book. This is a personal take on the book and does mention important parts of the books. It should be considered as much of a spoiler as the previous section!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Book Review: Mainspring by Jay Lake - 4thwallfly

Welcome to the Fly on the 4th Wall. This science fiction book I've chosen to review this week is falls solidly into the steampunk category, a world of airships and Victorian era steam power. So, we shall be giving thanks to Brass Christ for:
Cover art copyright of Stephan Martiniere.

'Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria still rules New England and her American Possessions; the Royal Navy rules the skies with its mighty Airships; and Earth still turns on God's great brass gears of Heaven as it makes its orderly passage around the Lamp of the Sun from Midnight to Midnight and Year to Year.

In the town of New Haven, a Clockmaker's young apprentice is visited at midnight by a brass Angel, and told that he, and he alone, can find the Key Perilous to rewind the Mainspring of Earth. If he does not, the planet will wind down, and life will cease.' - Mainspring, Jay Lake [2007]


At heart this is an adventure story that follows young Hethor Jacques, apprentice horologist, in his journeys through both hemispheres as he struggles to do God's bidding, having to deal with the various strata of society in this clockwork world. His adventure takes him all over the world, giving a very interesting view on the setting of Mainspring as he travels to both hemispheres of Earth, crossing the infamous Equatorial Wall.

Mainspring's setting is a mixture between classic steampunk and an orrery (a mechanical representation of the solar system). Set on an Earth that remains stuck with airships and mostly steam power (there are references to electricity) it combines the airship, steam-powered worlds of steampunk with a literal interpretation of an orrery, the Earth being a planet with huge gears straddling the Equator, pulling the Earth round the Sun on a slow orbit. This is a world where few people can doubt the existence of God as they can see it in the perfection of the orbiting body, there are mysteries to Him but there is no doubt. The British Empire, such as it is, dominates most of the Northern Hemisphere, but due to the huge gear mesh called the Equatorial Wall, the British Empire in this setting never developed any colony in the South Hemisphere. The Empire's main enemy in the Northern Hemisphere is China, Imperial and just as capable when it comes to creating and using airships.


Click below for the full synopsis (click to open/close):



Food for thought

On the face of it this book is a mirror to our world's history, like most steampunk novels, though the concept of Brass Christ is definitely unusual for a variety of reasons. Christianity is not a single dominant religion anymore, having branched off long ago into multiple subsets and within the subset of those who consider themselves Christian there are massive differences in piety and interpretation of the Christian religion. To appeal to the largest audience, most authors (who have Jesus analogues or Christianity analogues) refuse to go too deeply into detail to avoid alienating some of their readers. Likewise, in this book, though God is mentioned often, and though the archangel Gabriel features an important role, Jesus is barely mentioned. This is a common taboo. However, if we strip away the setting, tear away the brass gears, we are given a world not too different from that of our ancestors.

The world setting (in terms of mentality) might be said to be around the mid 1600s, the cusp of the Renaissance (and New Rome movements) and the birth of proto-Capitalism (in Antwerp). The people have moved away from the old interpretations of Creation to a newer, more aggressive one. In Earth's history, the 1600s and 1700s saw changes in how science was approached. It was commonly reasoned by Christian scientists in the past that:
1: God created the world.
2: Therefore, all things on Earth are his creations.
3: God is perfect.
4: Therefore, all things on Earth are perfected.
5: Therefore, dissective work, to prod and poke, (be it on animals or plants) is the gravest disrespect.

Much like the book's Rational Humanism, the 1600s and 1700s saw the birth of more cynical behaviour and more questioning, pushing against the boundaries set by the Church. In Mainspring, the world is set around that change in thinking. England's empire is no longer a God-fearing one, but one that sets its stamp around the globe for England, one that no longer believes in God because there was little enough evidence in their lives. We see the analogy to the above reasoning in the form of the horologists (from horology meaning the study of time). In a world where the Earth runs on brass rails and therefore is timed to God's designs, to study time and to create machines that record time is to question God's designs, yet for Hethor, the controversy of creating such devices is long gone.

There's an interesting question towards miracles and acceptance of them. It seems strange to us that a world that runs of brass rails could ever be subject to cynicism about the existence of a Creator (regardless of whether that Creator is a God or some other being). However, I feel it merely highlights the reality that a miracle is not a miracle if it happens often enough. For the people in Mainspring, the brass rails are just a normal part of their lives, and on a cynical level, the existence of the rails is not proof of God, though they might be proof of an ordered universe totally anathema to ours.

At its heart then, the story is about faith. It's about being able to trust in God despite the world around you and on some level there is a criticism about assuming you are God's chosen people. Mainspring is a story that revolves around the power of belief in God, about one young man's journey towards a form of enlightenment as he realises that God is Love (as most Christian faiths teach today).* It is not a book that celebrates mankind's relationship with God, but rather the Earth's relationship with God. The English within the book have become prone to believing themselves masters of the world and of having a unique and special relationship with God, though as Hethor travels through the north and south hemispheres, he comes to realise that God loves all his creations, regardless of how strange or varied they might be, including the many creatures that dwell upon the Equatorial Wall.
*An example of an exception would be Westboro Baptist Church

At a deeper level, the book subtly reminds us through Hethor's powers that everything on Earth is part of God's design (a message for the reading audience). That there is no part of Creation that is not God's design. It's a small nudge that Christians should bear in mind that God does not love Christians alone (or perhaps I should say Brass Christians), but loves everyone equally. This is more akin to the God of the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. The New Testament God can be equated to Jesus, the one of the Old Testament is a rather different figure altogether. In some ways, the book is a message to reinforce the validity of the more 'modern' God. The Old Testament God is one who incites genocide amongst his followers (see: Deut. 7.1-2) and even once destroyed the entire world in a fit of anger (see: Gen. 6.17). Admittedly, the rationale was because mankind had been rather evil, but then it should be pointed out that God gave mankind free will. To give mankind free will only to turn around and destroy people for expressing it in a manner he doesn't approve of isn't really giving free will.
At all.
Not even slightly.

Mainspring takes us away from that God, to a God who puts Hethor through trial after trial to broaden his perspective of the world (painful though it is) and speaks of the singular relationship that each person maintains with God (much akin to Lutheran Protestantism), but the overall message is that the world we live in needs God and God needs people and God is Love, i.e. the world needs love freely given to continue (which is quite a romantic take). Ultimately, this book is a subtle learning process for Christians to, a reminder that even if people are not your faith or colour or race, or even species, one should still see them as another aspect of God's creation and that they deserve to be treated and viewed equally. It is a reminder that one's religion should not be something to shut out others, but a tool to accept others.
I do enjoy a nice uplifting tale.