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The Dream of Perpetual Motion Hardcover – Mar 2 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (March 2 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312558155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312558154
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 3 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 544 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #687,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Praise for The Dream of Perpetual Motion:

“Dexter Palmer has given us a novel that's magnificent and strange and maybe a little harrowing too; I don't know quite how he did it, but it seems to have something to do with his figuring out how to let words get out about and mean what they feel like meaning that day and yet at the same time be in a tempest too. Bravo for this beautiful book!”
--Rivka Galchen, critically acclaimed author of Atmospheric Disturbances

"The breadth and depth of Dexter Palmer's storytelling is exhilarating. He's written a smart, funny, sad, and beautiful novel, full of magic, mystery, mechanical men, and a delightful amount of mayhem."
--Scott Smith, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Ruins

“Like the majority of contemporary novelists, I have often fantasized about Jules Verne, Nathanael West, and Thomas Pynchon meeting up in some netherworld saloon and, upon discovering they have absolutely nothing in common save a mutual affection for The Tempest, agreeing to reify their enthusiasm via a three-way collaboration filled with zeppelins, androids, monsters, virtual islands, linguistic felicity, and state-of-the-art weirdness. And now I must thank Dexter Palmer for making my dream come true.”
--James Morrow, author of The Last Witchfinder and The Philosopher's Apprentice

“The Dream of Perpetual Motion is plangent, tender and sui generis: a steampunk The Tempest with the grim and rippling beauty of a fairy tale.  Dexter Palmer is an ambitious writer, with vast reach toward the exploration of big ideas, among them what it means to create, the limits of the human body, and the uses and inadequacies of language. The marvelous kicker being, of course, that he has the moxie to do so in prose that sings.”
--Lauren Groff, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Monsters of Templeton

"Dexter Palmer has written a strange, passionate, enthralling first novel, a novel which is itself a kind of perpetual motion machine---constantly turning, giving off more energy than it receives, its movement at once beautiful and counterintuitive." 
--Kevin Brockmeier, New York Times Bestselling author of The Brief History of the Dead

“In The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer brings dignity coupled with an epic sense of fun to steampunk that I haven't seen since Jules Verne. Steampunk comes of age with this book.”
--Jonathan Maberry, author of Patient Zero

About the Author

DEXTER PALMER lives in Princeton, New Jersey. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University, where he completed his dissertation on the work of James Joyce, William Gaddis, and Thomas Pynchon (and where he also staged the first academic conference ever held at an Ivy League university on the subject of video games).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 67 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
After the Age of Miracles April 26 2010
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Set in the early twentieth century, after "the age of miracles," Dexter Palmer's steampunk novel and the city of Xeroville teem with technology rooted in the knowledge of the day: mechanical men instead of robots; answering machines that record on drums of wax; flying cars that rattle; teaching helmets lowered by cables and operated by hand cranks; and a zeppelin powered by the first (seemingly) perpetual motion machine. Amid this, the narrator of Dexter Palmer's debut novel tells how he grew from a shy, awkward boy to a prisoner aboard the Chrysalis, high above the world he used to know.

Palmer holds this complex novel together with bits of philosophy, sly wit, and a narrative voice that pulls the reader along from start to finish. It's an eloquent and often playful tale about the tenuous boundaries between mechanization and humanity, between love and narcissism, between perfection and fatal flaws. The cast of characters have names right out of Shakespeare: Prospero, the most brilliant inventor of his time and Harold's nemesis; Miranda, Prospero's adopted and sheltered daughter who acts more mechanical than human; and mad genius Caliban, the monster of Prospero's inventiveness. But other allusions abound, with hints of Roald Dahl, Jules Verne, Neal Stephanson, and L. Frank Baum to make this not only a fascinating read but also one that can be read again and again.

This novel is one of the best books I've read in 2010, and it deserves a readership that ranges from steampunk fans to literary fiction readers. The novel offers such a rich array of characters, ideas, and imagery that reading it feels like eating an enormous, magical feast. Expect to be challenged -- and to have people ask why you're smiling as you delve into Palmer's highly inventive world.

-- Debbie Lee Wesselmann
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
voice more than makes up for a few flaws--recommended Feb. 25 2010
By B. Capossere - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Dexter Palmer, has a great opening. Past a poetic and ominous first few lines, we get the narrator telling us "If my reckoning of time is still accurate . . .the one year anniversary of my incarceration aboard . . . a high altitude zeppelin designed by that most prodigious and talented of twentieth-century inventors, Prospero Taligent. It has also been a year since I last opened my mouth to speak. To anyone. Especially my captor . . . because it is the one thing that she desires, and my silence is the only form of protest that remains to me."
Great image--that zeppelin flying up there. Great hook--why's he imprisoned up there, why's he not speaking, who is "she"? Great voice--formal, solemn. In short, great opening. Does the rest of the book live up to the start? Well, not frequently enough, to be honest, but still, it was often enough that I'd recommend Dream.

Our captive narrator is Harold Winslow, writer of greeting cards, lover of Miranda Taligent, cat's-paw of Prospero Taligent. The book veers between first and third-person narration, though all by Harold, who informs us of when the "he" becomes "I" along the way of his explaining how he first met Miranda and Prospero and how that led to his current predicament. The novel covers Harold's childhood (about 20 yrs. pre-present time), the jumps ahead a decade to his college years, where his sister becomes more of a focal point, then another jump in time closer to the present. The movement is all straightforward and easy to follow. Mixed into Harold's narration are a few other elements: newspaper excerpts, diary entries, a host of dreams, and the like. These, I thought, varied greatly in their effectiveness, and I wouldn't have been sorry to see a large number of them, especially the dreams, dropped in favor of a more streamlined book.
he characters varied as well, with most of them a bit distant; I can't say I cared much for any of them, actually, though I found several interesting enough to carry me through. Luckily, one of those was Henry. Prospero was probably the most compelling, though several of his hired hands (two at the start and three at the very end) give him a run for his money in that department. Harold, as mentioned, was interesting enough, Miranda less so unfortunately. Harold's sister was interesting in her role and premise; she could have been on stage a bit more; though without her critic friend, who seemed the most forced and clichéd character of the book.

The setting wasn't particularly sharp or fully there, but it had moments of brilliance, such as the "shrink-cab", whose drivers are trained psychiatrists so one can get therapy while on the way to or form work; and the mechanical men invented by Prospero (they, like Harold's sister, could have seen more book-time).

If the plot was solid enough and the character decent, though, where the book shined, and the main reason for recommending it, is its prose and narrative voice, which was consistently strong throughout the novel. Here, for instance, is the description of Harold's greeting card workplace at night:
And nightfall has come to the greeting card works.

The building is nearly silent. Most of the machines are resting, with only an occasional isolated whir or hum in the darkened corridors, Christmas tinsel rustles in the dark from stray drafts of ice-cold air-conditioned wind. The building's struts and columns contract with quiet creaks and pops in the coldness of night.
And now the mechanical men concealed in hatches and secret doorways come out by the hundreds, creeping on cat feet like burglars or mischievous sprites, carrying huge burlap sacks on their backs. Quietly, they remove the red and green and silver and gold decorations from the walls and ceilings, stuffing them into their bags, replacing them with red cardboard hearts with arrows drawn on them, and long twisting billowing strands of pink crepe.
And in a stuffy room in the basement . . . a dwarf . . . removes his elf costume, squeezes into a bright red pair of tights, and straps a pair of cardboard cherub's wings around his naked hairless chest with a belt. A quiver full of arrows completes the outfit. Christmas is over. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day.

That is an author in control of his voice and while that's a standout section, there are several equally as good and others that come close. There's also a wonderful theme of silence that runs through the story, as well as some thought-provoking conversations and monologues.

The passages makes up for a so-so plot that could have used some cutting, especially of some of the interludes and more-forced-feeling passages, as well as for the less-than-empathetic characters. Because of the sometimes problems with narrative and character, Dream of Perpetual Motion was not a fluidly enjoyable read, and once or twice I had to kick myself a bit to pick it back up, but it's worth a read on its own and certainly piques my interest as far as what the author will do for his second book with a bit more seasoning.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Just can not get into the characters.. July 15 2010
By T. Distaso - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
WEll I have givin this book 3 tries and have barely made it to page 50..
Much like the plot that involved mechanical men and machines I feel the characters are too mechanical and robotic.
I have yet to feel invested into any one and find myself falling asleep or daydreaming while reading this book.

I do think the writer is very gifted and appreciate his gift of lyrical discriptions..

I just can feel no hook keeping me reading sadly, and have felt no desire to even make myself continue reading.
I may give it another go but for now it has suffered 3 strikes and I feel the need to move on.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Uses and Abuses of Language Nov. 10 2010
By Blake Fraina - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a difficult book to review. It's so dense with ideas and I enjoyed it so thoroughly that trying to do it justice in a few hundred words is very intimidating.

It's an intensely intellectual, yet trippy, steampunk take on Shakespeare's The Tempest, but it's also a rumination on the uses and abuses of language - the inescapable power of words over perception and, paradoxically, their impotency.

When young protagonist Harold Winslow wins an invitation to the birthday party of Miranda, the sequestered and mysterious daughter of the city's most powerful man, inventor extraordinaire Prospero Taligent, his father tells him to write about the experience, advising the boy, "Write down what you think happened, or what you believe happened or something like what might have happened...all are true, in their own way." And when discussing true miracles versus contemporary inventions, Harold tells his father that his teacher knows nothing; that instead "...the books know everything for her." His sister, Astrid, is a conceptual/performance artist whose goal is, "...liberating language from the patriarchy." And much later, Prospero tells Harold that, "With faith in God comes faith in language," for God is like a great Author who brings a sense of order to the chaos of existence. Even the monstrous Caliban, a failed experiment of Taligent's, clings to superstitions about the power of words. Here he's depicted as a sort of Frankenstein's monster who spends every waking moment typing on a typewriter [surgically attached to his head], attempting to find a 72 letter name that will unlock the secret of humanity. There is even a neighborhood in the city, Picturetown, whose residents have rejected language entirely, opting instead to communicate by scrawling pictograms onto index cards. Dexter Palmer, the author himself, even makes a cameo appearance as a novelist, and a bit of a windbag, at a party attended by Harold and Astrid's artistic set.

Over time, Harold becomes more and more obsessed with Miranda and, as an adult, attempts to rescue her from the monolithic skyscraper where her father holds her prisoner. His harrowing quest ultimately leads him to discover the ghoulish truth about her existence and leaves him forever stranded, floating above the city in a dirigible, writing the memoir we are reading with no one but the frozen body of Prospero and the disembodied voice of his beloved for company.

This is a wonderful, wonderful book. It's filled with arresting imagery, it's kooky, weird, elaborate, thrilling, chilling, disturbing and thought-provoking. If you're looking for a challenging read, this is the one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Problems Abound July 12 2011
By Zachary Hiwiller - Published on
Verified Purchase
After buying Boneshaker, I kept getting recommendations for this book, probably because people who buy one steampunk book buy them all. This was a debut novel and it has problems - the protagonist is unlikable, some scenes are too clever by half, some scenes nothing happens at all, the characters do not change, too many dream sequences. The book isn't bad, but I've read so many good books this year that it comes off a bit sour. As an example: There's a scene towards the end where the main character runs into a character from earlier in the book who gets cut off getting a parking space by an old lady. He then keys her car, shoots her dog and then throws a vial of acid on her face. A vial of acid! It is explained in the story later why he has that, but come on! Scenes like this seem to be trying too hard to establish a spectacle without actually adding to the plot or character development. The scene is throwaway. Nothing happens to the main character, the acid wielder doesn't show up again. It is worthless.

The book actually gets legs in the final quarter where you meet some interesting characters but they only live for a scene or two. It could have been a compelling novella if reworked. I'd pass unless you really dig a soup of steampunk, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Tempest.