Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Windup Toys

Mainspring is one of those books that makes me think about other books I've read. Jay Lake describes a world that initially just seems like one of those fantastic conceits: suppose the mechanical universe imagined by the ancients was real. Suppose the Earth really was a wind-up machine, orbiting the Sun on a gigantic brass track. Suppose the mainspring that kept things going wound down?

That's the premise, and Hethor, a young clock maker's apprentice, is chosen by Archangel Gabriel to go find the Key Perilous to wind the Spring.

Except, of course, things aren't quite so simple. Which is where I'll leave it, to avoid giving away the story. It is a great read, regardless of what you think of the author's message.

After finishing the book I thought I had not just read a great story, but also a thought-provoking response to Pullman's His Dark Materials. Where Pullman writes a critique of organized religion, Lake's book is a critique of humanism. It's not, of course, a reasoned argument, no more than Pullman's story was anything but an ad hominem fallacy larded with overextended analogies. But it does lay out the position that opposes humanism: that there is a higher power, that this higher power may have a purpose for us, and that we must then do everything in our power to fullfill that purpose.

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