1/07/2011. Contributed by J.L. Jamieson
The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) by Andrew P. Mayer. pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. ISBN: ISBN 978-1-61614-375-6. 285 page small enlarged Paperback $16.00 (US), GBP 14.99 (UK). e-book $11.99 (US). ISBN 978-1-61614-376-3.
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com
Sarah Stanton lives in a world where women’s roles are as confining as their corseted and bustled attire. Andrew P. Mayer’s ‘The Falling Machine’ is set in a 1880s New York, where a group of self-made super-heroes fight against megalomaniac villains bent on unmaking the world. The book opens with Sarah witnessing the murder of her mentor, who is also the leader of the aging super-heroes of New York, called The Paragons. The story unravels with Sarah’s self-given quest to discover his murderer, dodging the restrictive expectations of her Paragon father and the rest of society to become the heroine she was born to be.
While attempting to solve the mystery, Sarah stumbles on a revelation that could break the resolve of the famed Paragons: a traitor lies among them. With the help of a mechanical man called The Automaton, she begins to track down clues to who killed her dear friend, learning the truth about the greed and conceit within the Paragons she grew up with. Revelations on her mentor’s creation of a groundbreaking means of power called Fortified Steam also lead to some chilling conclusions as to why he was killed and who was behind it.
Mayer tackles some fairly big ideas in this novel: gender roles, the difference between person and machine, age and corruption. Although his treatment of female gender role issues make it obvious he’s not a woman, he treats the age-old Science Fiction debate of humanity vs. artificial intelligence with style. The overall concept of the novel was solid and the story itself exciting. However, some rough dialogue in the novel along with sections of overly detailed back story provides for some bumpy reading in places. The reader gets more explanation and character history than they need and some characters cause confusion by not being explained much at all. Instead of trusting his audience to simply work some things out for themselves, the development of some characters get sacrificed for the sake of providing unnecessary history for others.
Steampunk lends itself so well to the super-hero genre with its imaginative science and gadgetry, ‘The Falling Machine’ hardly needed to push the super-hero concept quite so much. Leaving off the clichés of golden age super-hero/villain comics and allowing the story to tell itself would have made a better book. The story is really quite good without the nods to the comic genre that feel a bit shoehorned into the story. I do look forward to the second book, as the story is quite compelling. I think that some of the bumps in the first book will naturally straighten out as Mayer continues work on the series. Overall, an enjoyable story, if an uncomfortable read in places.
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