Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Waking Engine Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: David Edison
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Literary Fantasy, New Weird
Series: Standalone
Pages: 397

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Where You End Up, Or How You Get There, Nobody Really Knows

(An advanced copy was provided by the publisher).

What happens to you after you die?  This is the question that The Waking Engine examines as a large cast of characters navigate the City Unspoken, a place where the dead across the metaverse congregate.

For debut author David Edison, his book is loaded with a lot of good things – great prose, creative moment to moment situations, and a lot of thought provoking concepts – but there are also the things that aren’t so good – lack of emotionally attaching characters, a standard over arcing plot, and a story that relies heavily on life after death to generate interest rather than creating an interesting story.

I expect this book will be divisive amongst readers at the very least.  For my part I enjoyed it, but I have some reservations about it, too.  If you’re looking for a book that is intellectually stimulating or bizarre with its moment by moment situations, than than The Waking Engine might be for you.  If you need a story that explains itself or if you’re looking for a more traditional story look elsewhere.

Cooper is not your typical protagonist.  He’s fat, he’s gay, and he’s dead.  Coming from New York, Cooper wakes up in the City Unspoken where he encounters all sorts of beings who are in between lives in the metaverse.  After death, people reawaken in bodies and begin new lives, but people who arrive in the City Unspoken have a chance for true death.

However the gateway to true death is failing and it’s up to Cooper and some of the City Unspoken’s other residents to save the gateway so people can die again.

The Waking Engine is a postmodern fantasy (with some elements of science fiction thrown in the mix).  Although postmodernism has been around for awhile now, it’s appearance in fantasy is rare.  So for people who have read a lot of fantasy, but are unfamiliar with literary postmodernism this book will be strange … very strange.  For people who are familiar with postmodernism, this book may be a fun twist on the fantasy genre. Postmodernism is a divisive literary movement, and for good reason, there are serious pitfalls that come with writing it.

Edison’s story has two major flaws: creating a lack of emotionally attaching characters and writing a meaningful story larger story that is led on by many seemingly meaningless events.  To elaborate, looking at the larger plot, which is outlined in the plot summary, you see a meaningful story.  However a lot of the moment to moment situations are random, meaningless, and have little to do with the larger plot. This creates an oxymoron of sorts, but it also denies the cathartic release that should be provided in a climax because there are a lack of meaningful moment to moment situations – the time being spent on creating these random events instead.

This is where this review gets hypocritical.  While I don’t like being denied an emotional climax, I did enjoy a lot of the moment to moment situations.  These situations display the author’s vast imagination, and it makes reading this book feel like you’re on some sort of crazy acid trip. There is a wide array of strange happenings in this story. Our main character witnesses a lot of violence, most of which is committed in a nonchalant manner; he sees and talks to historical figures ranging from Walt Whitman to Kurt Cobain; and when he’s down on life there is always the random appearing beluga whale that he can talk to.

The greatest strength of this book is the prose.  Edison writes so well he will easily fool you into thinking he’s written many novels. The way this book is written though makes it more challenging to read.  Character viewpoints shift frequently, random non logical events occur whimsically, and the story uses a more advanced vocabulary.  I really enjoyed the more challenge aspects of reading this story, but others may find it confusing and frustrating.

On a conceptual level, The Waking Engine asks some thoughtful questions about life after death.  I appreciate that Edison chose to provide answers to these questions (granted they’re made up for all we know) and created a world around them. This book could spark interesting discussions about life after death, but that subject always sparks interesting discussions. So then its a matter of will life after death be discussed as it pertains to this story, or will it just get people to discuss life after death because its the subject of the book.  I lean towards the latter, and for me while The Waking Engine is conceptually exciting, the book’s substance and story (the question of what happens to us after we die) relies on that question to generate interest rather than providing a memorable story to provoke discussions about life after death.

David Edison has written a bold first novel.  Readers will be taking a chance with this book, it’s not conventional. If prose and imagination are important to you than checking out this book will be worth your time.

Score: 7.6

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