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Angelmaker (Vintage Contemporaries) [Paperback]

Nick Harkaway
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A head-spinning cliffhanger that reads a bit like Harry Potter for grownups. . . . It would be a shame if no movie were made from this glorious piece of kaleidoscope-fiction." --The Wall Street Journal

“Brilliant, wholly original, and a major-league hoot.” —The Seattle Times

“Nick Harkaway has created a brand new genre: Existential pulp . . . Redolent of comic books and action serials, but there are also serious questions about the nature of existence and personhood being asked. . . . So over the top, it redefines where the top is.” —io9

“A big, gleefully absurd, huggable bear of a novel. . . . Harkaway’s prose is playful and beguiling, with a keen satiric edge.” —Slate 

“A story of technology and morality. It’s a wonderfully strange, rich piece of work— extremely entertaining and exciting—and has a wonderfully comic aspect to it as well.” —William Gibson
 
“A magnificent, literary, post-pulp triumph. . . . Angelmaker is an entertaining tour-de-force that demands to be adored.”  —The Independent (London)

“It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why Angelmaker is one of the year’s best books. Know this, though: it is.”  —Tor.com
 
Angelmaker strenuously avoids falling into any usual category of fiction. Part science fiction, part philosophical exploration, part steampunk fantasy and part lovingly realistic description of contemporary London, it pays tribute to Charles Dickens in its quirky names and frequent coincidences, and to pulp fiction in its semi-clad damsels and grisly scenes of torture. It is also mordantly funny.” —The Columbus Dispatch
 
“[Harkaway] manages to write surrealist adventure novels that feel both urgent and relevant. His novels are fun to read without seeming particularly frivolous, and beneath all the derring-do and shenanigans, there’s a low thrum of anxiety: everything and everyone you love could disappear at any moment. . . . Angelmaker is a truly impressive achievement.” —The Millions
 
“A lot of books are fun to read for the plot; a smaller percentage display this artful mastery of the language. And precious few manage to do both. Angelmaker falls into that last category.” —Wired.com
 
 “An ambitious, crowded, restless caper, cleverly told. . . .  A solid work of modern fantasy fiction.” —The Observer (London)
 
“Marvelously old-fashioned in the best sense of that word. It’s a sprawling, irreverent, blockbuster of a novel, an apocalyptic roller coaster of a book.”—Open Letters Monthly
 
“A genuine tale of fantastika. . . . And the truth of what we have done, and where we live now, shines through.”   —Strange Horizons
 
“A riotous, wildly inventive mish-mash of genres and seemingly contradictory ideas [Angelmaker] manages the not inconsiderable trick of being both immensely entertaining and curiously heartfelt.” —The Sydney Morning Herald
 
A joyful display of reckless, delightful invention, on a par with the rocket-powered novels of Neal Stephenson, if in rather more ironically diffident English form. Ideas come zinging in from all corners, and do so with linguistic verve and tremendous humour. . . . What a splendid ride.” —The Guardian (London)
 
An intricate and brilliant piece of escapism. . . . Gleefully nostalgic and firmly modern, hand-on-heart and tongue-in-cheek, this is as far as it could be from the wearied tropes that dominate so much of fantasy and SF.” —Daily Telegraph (London)
 
“[The Gone-Away World] was a work of such glorious, exhaustive excess a part of me wondered if Harkaway would actually write again. I am profoundly glad that he has: Angelmaker is every bit as entertaining and imaginative. . . . Effervescent and witty. . . . Harkaway manages the ideal blend of paying homage to a very British sense of decency and fair play, while at the same time idolising the rule-breakers.” — Stuart Kelly, Scotsman on Sunday
 
“Endlessly inventive. . . . An absurdist sendup of pulp story tropes and end-of-the-world scenarios.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Harkaway’s celebrated debut, The Gone-Away World . . . was really just a warm up act—a prodigiously talented novelist stretching muscles that few other writers even possess—for this tour de force of Dickensian bravura and genre-bending splendor. . . . This is a marvelous book, both sublimely intricate and compulsively readable.” —Booklist (starred review)
 
“Harkaway keeps us guessing, traveling the edges between fantasy, sci-fi, the detective novel, pomo fiction and a good old-fashioned comedy of the sort that Jerome K. Jerome might have written had he had a ticking thingy instead of a boat as his prop. . . . His tale stands comparison to Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.” —Kirkus (starred review)

About the Author

NICK HARKAWAY is the author of two novels, The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, and The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World. He is also a regular blogger for the Bookseller’s FutureBook website. From 1999 to 2008, he was a jobbing scriptwriter. During that time he also wrote brochure copy for a company selling bottle-capping machinery, and the website text for an exclusive lingerie boutique. He lives in London with his wife Clare, a human rights lawyer, and his daughter Clemency, an infant.
 
www.nickharkaway.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.



I
.

At seven fifteen a.m., his bedroom slightly colder than the vacuum of space, Joshua Joseph Spork wears a longish leather coat and a pair of his father’s golfing socks. Papa Spork was not a natural golfer. Among other differences, natural golfers do not acquire their socks by hijacking a lorryload destined for St. Andrews. It isn’t done. Golf is a religion of patience. Socks come and socks go, and the wise golfer waits, sees the pair he wants, and buys it without fuss. The notion that he might put a Thompson sub-machine gun in the face of the burly Glaswegian driver, and tell him to quit the cab or adorn it . . . well. A man who does that is never going to get his handicap down below the teens.

The upside is that Joe doesn’t think of these socks as belonging to Papa Spork. They’re just one of two thousand pairs he inherited when his father passed on to the great bunker in the sky, contents of a lock-up off Brick Lane. He returned as much of the swag as he could—it was a weird, motley collection, very appropriate to Papa Spork’s somewhat eccentric life of crime—and found himself left with several suitcases of personal effects, family Bibles and albums, some bits and bobs his father apparently stole from his father, and a few pairs of socks the chairman of St. Andrews suggested he keep as a memento.

“I appreciate it can’t have been easy, doing this,” the chairman said over the phone. “Old wounds and so on.”

“Really, I’m just embarrassed.”

“Good Lord, don’t be. Bad enough that the sins of the fathers shall descend and all that, without feeling embarrassed about it. My father was in Bomber Command. Helped plan the firebombing of Dresden. Can you imagine? Pinching socks is rather benign, eh?”

“I suppose so.”

“Dresden was during the war, of course, so I suppose they thought it had to be done. Jolly heroic, no doubt. But I’ve seen photographs. Have you?”

“No.”

“Try not to, I should. They’ll stay with you. But if ever you do, for some godforsaken reason, it might make you feel better to be wearing a pair of lurid Argyles. I’m putting a few in a parcel. If it will salve your guilt, I shall choose the absolute nastiest ones.”

“Oh, yes, all right. Thank you.”

“I fly myself, you know. Civilian. I used to love it, but recently I can’t help but see firebombs falling. So I’ve sort of given up. Rather a shame, really.”

“Yes, it is.”

There’s a pause while the chairman considers the possibility that he may have revealed rather more of himself than he had intended.

“Right then. It’ll be the chartreuse. I quite fancy a pair of those myself, to wear next time I visit the old bugger up at Hawley Churchyard. ‘Look here, you frightful old sod,’ I shall tell him, ‘where you persuaded yourself it was absolutely vital that we immolate a city full of civilians, other men’s fathers restricted themselves to stealing ugly socks.’ That ought to show him, eh?”

“I suppose so.”

So on his feet now are the fruits of this curious exchange, and very welcome between his unpedicured soles and the icy floor.

The leather coat, meanwhile, is a precaution against attack. He does own a dressing gown, or rather, a toweling bathrobe, but while it’s more cosy to get into, it’s also more vulnerable. Joe Spork inhabits a warehouse space above his workshop—his late grandfather’s workshop—in a dingy, silent bit of London down by the river. The march of progress has passed it by because the views are grey and angular and the place smells strongly of riverbank, so the whole enormous building notionally belongs to him, though it is, alas, somewhat entailed to banks and lenders. Mathew—this being the name of his lamentable dad—had a relaxed attitude to paper debt; money was something you could always steal more of.

Speaking of debts, he wonders sometimes—when he contemplates the high days and the dark days of his time as the heir of crime—whether Mathew ever killed anyone. Or, indeed, whether he killed a multitude. Mobsters, after all, are given to arguing with one another in rather bloody ways, and the outcomes of these discussions are often bodies draped like wet cloth over barstools and behind the wheels of cars. Is there a secret graveyard somewhere, or a pig farm, where the consequences of his father’s breezy amorality are left to their final rest? And if there is, what liability does his son inherit on that score?

In reality, the ground floor is entirely given over to Joe’s workshop and saleroom. It’s high and mysterious, with things under dust sheets and—best of all—wrapped in thick black plastic and taped up in the far corner “to treat the woodworm.” Of recent days these objects are mostly nothing more than a couple of trestles or benches arranged to look significant when buyers come by, but some are the copper-bottomed real thing—timepieces, music boxes, and best of all: hand-made mechanical automata, painted and carved and cast when a computer was a fellow who could count without reference to his fingers.

It’s impossible, from within, not to know where the warehouse is. The smell of old London whispers up through the damp boards of the sale room, carrying with it traces of river, silt and mulch, but by some fillip of design and aging wood it never becomes obnoxious. The light from the window slots, high above ground level and glazed with that cross-wired glass for security, falls at the moment on no fewer than five Edinburgh long-case clocks, two pianolas, and one remarkable object which is either a mechanised rocking horse or something more outré for which Joe will have to find a rather racy sort of buyer. These grand prizes are surrounded by lesser ephemera and common-or-garden stock: crank-handle telephones, gramophones and curiosities. And there, on a plinth, is the Death Clock.

It’s just a piece of Victorian tat, really. A looming skeleton in a cowl drives a chariot from right to left, so that—to the western European observer, used to reading from left to right—he is coming to meet us. He has his scythe slung conveniently across his back for easy reaping, and a scrawny steed with an evil expression pulls the thing onward, ever onward. The facing wheel is a black clock with very slender bone hands. It has no chime; the message is perhaps that time passes without punctuation, but passes all the same. Joe’s grandfather, in his will, commended it to his heir for “special consideration”—the mechanism is very clever, motivated by atmospheric fluctuation—but the infant Joe was petrified of it, and the adolescent resented its immutable, morbid promise. Even now—particularly now, when thirty years of age is visible in his rear-view mirror and forty glowers at him from down the road ahead, now that his skin heals a little more slowly than it used to from solder burn and nicks and pinks, and his stomach is less a washboard and more a comfy if solid bench—Joe avoids looking at it.

The Death Clock also guards his only shameful secret, a minor, practical concession to the past and the financial necessities. In the deepest shadows of the warehouse, next to the leaky part of the wall and covered in a grimy dustsheet, are six old slot machines—genuine one-armed bandits—which he is refurbishing for an old acquaintance named Jorge. Jorge (“Yooorrr-geh! With passion like Pasternak!” he tells new acquaintances) runs a number of low dives which feature gambling and other vices as their main attractions, and Joe’s job is to maintain these traditional machines—which now dispense tokens for high-value amounts and intimate services rather than mere pennies—and to bugger them systematically so that they pay out on rare occasions or according to Jorge’s personal instruction. The price of continuity in the clockworking business is minor compromise.

The floor above—the living area, where Joe has a bed and some old wooden wardrobes big enough to conceal a battleship—is a beautiful space. It has broad, arched windows and mellowed red-brick walls which look out onto the river on one side, and on the other an urban landscape of stores and markets, depots and back offices, lock-ups, car dealerships, Customs pounds, and one vile square of green-grey grass which is protected by some indelible ordinance and thus must be allowed to fester where it lies.

All very fine, but the warehouse has recently acquired one serious irritant: a cat. At some time, one mooring two hundred yards up was allowed to go to a houseboat, on which lives a very sweet, very poor family called Watson. Griff and Abbie are a brace of mildly paranoid anarchists, deeply allergic to paperwork and employment on conscientious grounds. There’s a curious courage to them both: they believe in a political reality which is utterly terrifying, and they’re fighting it. Joe is never sure whether they’re mad or just alarmingly and uncompromisingly incapable of self-delusion.

In any case, he gives any spare clockwork toys he has to the Watsons, and eats dinner with them once in a while to make sure they’re still alive. They in their turn share with him vegetables from their allotment and keep an eye on the warehouse if he goes away for the weekend. The cat (Joe thinks of it as ‘the Parasite’) adopted them some months ago and now rules the houseboat by a combination of adept political and emotional pressure brought to bear through ...
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