The Dream of Perpetual Motion Hardcover – Mar 2 2010
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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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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.
GEORGE: See, this should be a show. This is the show.
GEORGE: This. Just talking.
JERRY: (dismissing) Yeah, right.
GEORGE: I'm really serious. I think that's a good idea.
JERRY: Just talking? Well what's the show about?
GEORGE: It's about nothing.
JERRY: No story?
GEORGE: No forget the story.
JERRY: You've got to have a story.
GEORGE: Who says you gotta have a story?
A book about nothing indeed. Reading this book was painful.
But let's assume that you're a masochist. In that case, if you can get past the boring characters, the contrived plot, the abysmal pacing, the drab world and the frustrating writing style, then I suppose you can finish this book.
But dear God why would you want to? There is so much better fiction out there, don't waste your time on this crap.
Here are some problems with this book, if you feel you need more details before choosing to read something else.
== Characters ==
The main character is not a hero. The main character isn't even an anti-hero. The main is one of those cardboard cutouts of a person that just gets transported different places so he can stand there and act indifferent. Let's be clear, he isn't stoic. He isn't "hard to read". The main character produces no useful emotional responses to anything. He does however whine for pages on end about how he wishes he could feel more emotion. Trust me, you don't care.
The other two main characters are a crazy, sheltered rich girl and her crazed inventor of a father. So, you have a princess and a mad scientist and the author manages to make both of them irritatingly hollow. The girl needs to be rescued because how else are we going to get the plot somewhat moving? The mad scientist is crazy because this wouldn't even be a story if he wasn't crazy. The characters in this book are so poorly written you will never confuse them with real people. Real people have motivations, emotions and desires. These characters have each been handed a fortune cookie and told "everything you need to know about your role is written on this slip of paper". This is one of the few books I've read in which I was actually rooting for some type of natural disaster to occur and kill everyone. When you reach the end of a book and you realize that you don't really care what happens to anyone, it's time to scratch this author off your list.
== Plot ==
The only thing that annoyed me more than the characters was what passes for a plot. <SPOILER ALERT> there is no plot </SPOILER ALERT>. Basically everything in the book is contrived by the mad scientist, up to and including the "big reveal" at the end. So, you would think having your entire life controlled, monitored and directed would upset the protagonist somewhat, right? Well, you would be wrong. He pretty much just trudges through the entire book with an attitude of "well, if I must, I guess I can" until he reaches the final confrontation with the antagonist. And how does it end? Slowly, painfully and with absolutely no purpose. That is the theme here, contrived pointless exercises. There are no "good guys", there are no "bad guys", there is no "conflict" there is no "resolution". It seems like something an art student would come up with to explain "man's indifference to man" or some other horse **** philosophy.
This isn't the worst book I've ever read, but it is amazingly bad. I finished it just to see if there was a ray of hope at the end, but sadly there wasn't. So do yourself a favor and go read something else.
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.
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.