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The Dream of Perpetual Motion

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dreamofper.jpgThe Dream of Perpetual Motion

This is a book review. The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Dexter Palmer is a dreamy, surreal book, of poetic language and a diaphanous, ethereal setting in the 21st century. Reality in the form of mechanical men, statutory rape(?) and science as well as a metareference to The Tempest intrude into the sometimes vague description of the magic realism universe. It is a parallel universe, where an age of miracles proceeded the mad reign of Prospero Taligent, an inventor who has changed the world. Because this is a review, it seems like comparisons and ratings and recommendations are in order.

Though I frequently simplify reviews to labels and references to other works, it is unfair to all but the most shallow of works to so quickly categorize them. This book is steampunk, that book is splatterpunk, that book is urban fantasy noir. This one suffers in comparison to the works of Jonathan Carroll, this one is better than Heinlein's didactic rightwing freelove hippy fascist rants. (I like Heinlein, whatever his political orientation.) I was thinking about great and effective reviews when I came across a short entry on a polyamory blog. The biggest problem with a good review is that there needs to be context, revelation and education, some of which might seem self-aggrandizing or worse.

Who's The Best Bond?


A lot of people have a favorite Bond. Connery is frequently favored over Moore. Barry Nelson is almost never mentioned, George Lazenby wasn't seen by many people who watch Bond today. They may remember Brosnan, Dalton and certainly Craig, but who was best? By best do we mean most faithful to the books? Best actor? Best looking? Comparing the movies is even more difficult: how does one compare From Russia With Love to Moonraker to Casino Royale (the new one, not the first two)?

With books it's even more difficult. A movie may be a two hour investment, and most of us do not require much of them. If they are fun, they are good. With a book though, the time investment is much higher for most people. And they expect more. Or they expect something different. Not just entertainment but facility with language. It must impress or be invisible. Challenge or be absent. Different genres bring different baggage. Science fiction is thought to be a category of ideas, if one ignores all the serializations and bad tie ins. And the ideas should challenge and illuminate, reveal the present and humanity through a distorted lens, though not an unfocused one.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion is, as its title suggests, a dream. There is a dream-like logic to plot and chronology and a dream like focus on foregrounds, with sudden intrusions of concrete secondary characters and happenings. It is not a simple read. Not distractingly complex, but requiring some effort.

Harold, the protagonist, is a prisoner on a zeppelin powered by a perpetual motion machine. A woman's voice, someone he knows, speaks to him throughout his imprisonment, though he refuses to talk back. The airships builder is dead. The past that led to his imprisonment is covered, tied to the woman's voice. We see him as a child, with his family and his interactions over time with his family and the family of the voice and her inventor father (Prospero). The characters are not fully fleshed, the reasons for their actions are sometimes left mysterious, the author indulges in hints to a past he never reveals.

A paragraph from the book is apropos of the language of dreams, and the language of the book. "Waking up from the dream is the worst part. It always takes a few seconds. It's like... suppose you were underwater and naked and running out of air, deep down, where all the light's gone, and you have to come up for air. And you spend every last precious ounce of your life's energy in the effort to rise to the surface and take that badly needed breath, and just as your head breaks from the water you remember, too late, to your horror, that you are a fish."

I finished How To Live In A Science Fiction Universe not long ago. And I did not give it a favorable review. The ideas were trite and poorly worked out. The language was showy and screamed for attention, taking away the focus on the story to focus on the cleverness of the author. The Dream of Perpetual Motion does not draw attention away from the story, with its self reflection, metatextual references and complex word interplay, instead the language fits the story. There is a poetry to the cadence in places, an insight to familial relationships in others and a complex society painted with such a light brush that, instead of being disappointed, I was intrigued, fleshing it out in my mind.

Like the best of dreams, there is a sense of something missing, a lack of total answers but a sense there was a deeper meaning. I recommend the book to people who enjoy reading, enjoy words, enjoy ideas, but do not need to be spoon fed every moment in brilliant detail.

Check out The Dream of Perpetual Motion on Amazon.

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