April 9, 2020

Book Review: The Falling Machine

The Falling Machine, Book one of the Society of Steam, is Andrew P. Mayer’s first novel, and I found it a really interesting read.  The story is set in 1880′s Victorian New York with a very industrial feel.  The story opens when Sir Dennis Darby, the head of the Society of Paragons — a gentleman’s adventure club — is surprised upon the frame of the future Brooklyn Bridge and meets with an untimely, but very dramatic, demise.

Witness to this assassination are this story’s unlikely heroes Sarah Stanton, a 19th century woman with a 21st century intellect and drive, and the Automaton (aka Tom), the mechanical man that is Sir Dennis’ greatest achievement.  With Sir Dennis’ death and no other alternatives left to him but to tend to himself, Tom grows into a most interesting character throughout the development of the story. He and Sarah team up to get to the heart of this heinous crime.

The Society of Paragons is a really interesting group of gentleman.  Each has an heroic alter-ego and each has a mechanical outfit appropriate to his name and particular skill. Sir Dennis was involved in creating each of the costumes.  At the heart of the functionality of these otherwise improbable outfits is a substance called ‘fortified steam’.  The Submersible, for example, a German gentleman of some girth, could not comfortably don the diving suit he wore while manning the submarine that gives him his name without the help of Fortified Steam.

One thing about the Society struck me. A gentleman must present an application for membership, including an heroic personna and a philosophy. Mayer himself makes a wonderful statement on the nature of heroes and, really, a statement on the philosophy of the Paragons. “Most heroes were simply people with one or two skills that, with training and focus, could undeniably put them in a better class than the average man.” I like that.

Sarah is herself a force to be reckoned with. She flies under the radar because she is a woman in a man’s world. She is intelligent and independent and a perpetual annoyance to her Paragon father. Although she is unlikely ever to BE a Paragon, she has been raised around them, understands what they are, and functions as one throughout the story. And Tom is the perpetuation of the ongoing conundrum that is mechanical beings. Can they think independently, or not? Can they be trusted, or not? Are they practical even to create, or not?

I like Andrew Mayer. His story made me think some, smile some, and scowl some, all by his design. His imagery was both industrial and post-industrial. His characters are fallible and heroic at once. His teaming up of a woman and a machine to be his heroes was genius.

I’m looking forward already to the next installment of The Society of Steam.