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Mainspring    by Jay Lake order for
by Jay Lake
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)

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*   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Mainspring begins as a classic cyberpunk novel, set in a world run by machinery. The Mainspring is at the center of the world, constantly turning and working, making every other cog, wheel and spring turn and work. The world is split between its two hemispheres by a giant metal wall that reaches into space. The planet turns, and runs on an orbiting track around the sun. At midnight the wall connects with this track for one moment, obliterating everything on top of the Wall and starting anew. All this was created and set in motion by God: the Mainspring is the heart of the world and also the heart of God.

In this world, the War for Independence never happened, and at the turn of the twentieth century, Britain still controls the colonies. Hethor Jacques, a sixteen-year-old clockmaker's apprentice, is visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told that the Mainspring is not running well and requires the Key Perilous to set it in correct motion again. This is rarely necessary but the time has come again and it is up to Hethor to perform this task. With lots of problems and obstructions along the way, Hethor makes his treacherous journey to Boston, where he is press ganged into the British navy on Her Majesty's Ship of the Air Bassett: an ordinary ship attached to a great air balloon that sends it high into the sky. Commissioned to aid Her Majesty's ships at the Wall, the Bassett travels over the Atlantic to the great iron curtain where its crew come face to face with horrors and monsters never imagined. The Wall is a place of legend, of fabled cities filled with jewels and ghosts.

In a town on the Wall, Hethor meets the Jade Priest who helps him cross the Wall and enter the southern hemisphere. He must travel to the South Pole where he will find the entrance to the Mainspring. It is here, in the last third of the book, that the plot devolves, much like the devolved and chaotic world of this hemisphere. Jay Lake takes an uncertain direction, in pushing forth the religion that has been secondary to the incredible cyberpunk world so far, making Hethor into a messianic character, and therefore able to survive every devastating attack and tragedy that befalls him. It is here also that Hethor becomes leader of a simian race - between monkey and human on an evolutionary scale - known as the correct people. Hethor's leading the correct people south recalls Moses and the Israelites. Naturally, there is a female in this group, Arellya. Hethor becomes closer and closer to Arellya, eventually leading to a copulation scene that can only be described as bestiality: 'He rubbed at her hairy back, enjoying the silky smooth feel, like petting a giant cat.'

With this major redirection to the novel, I found Mainspring hard to finish. The failing of the book was in going from a complex and fantastic world of air ships and machinery and exotic places to an emphasis on religious dogma coupled with a fascination for an ape-like race. Nevertheless, Mainspring, which has amazing cover artwork of the Bassett at the Wall, possesses many facets of the cyberpunk novel making it a classic in some ways.

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