Customer Reviews: Mainspring
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on November 2, 2007
I'll start it short: This is a terrible book.

The premise is excellent, as is the cover. The execution, however, is amateurish at best and laughable at worst. There were some 4 star moments, though - the journey, to be fair, proceeded as follows:

3 stars, 4 stars, 3, 4, 2, 2, 1...

The second half of this book is so unsatisfying, and the ending so trite and faux-didactic that I had trouble not throwing it across the room. As a massive sf/fantasy literary snob (China Mieville is my hero), I was actually insulted to have been conned into buying and reading this book.

The premise is classic steampunk/clockpunk - what if the solar system were a giant clockwork mechanism, and the planet was winding down and needed to be rewound? The book, however, is classic bait-and-switch. There is no steampunk here beyond the premise, and after the halfway point the book just becomes tiresome and tedious. The main character is uninteresting, his 'perils' uninspiring, and we are never concerned that he is in any danger of failure on his quest. Actions, scenes, characters and ideas are thrown around, but the author never does us the courtesy of explaining them. The message of the entire book seems to be 'trust in god' which never sits well with me anyway, but this message isn't even delivered in an interesting way. A massive, massive disappointment, and I should probably give the book away to someone I don't like.

Have I mentioned how terrible this book is? Well, let's ignore a pointless sex scene thrown in randomly later in the book to establish a growing bond between the main character and his nominal girlfriend; let's ignore the impossible nature of the equatorial gear crossing (Imagine the worst possible writing mistake about a world where the baseline earth is a giant clockwork mechanism and the concept of gears is fundamental??? Try thinking about the shape of a gear for a second, just one second, a fraction of time less than it would have taken the author to google a picture of a gear, for example...); let's ignore foolish exposition and grade school philosophy and metaphysics that makes the Matrix look like holy revelation by comparison; let's ignore long, tedious travelling scenes followed by condescendingly short and ridiculous action scenes with monsters who appear for no reason and out of nowhere... What's left to ignore?

There was a tiny fraction of potential in this novel, and it was wasted.

I think Jay Lake should go read Polystom: Two Universes in One Reality (Gollancz). That was an excellent take on a similar idea. It even had a point! This, however wasn't and hadn't.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon August 2, 2007
This is very clever idea. What if the idea of the Universe as a clockwork mechanism was not merely a metaphor but literally true? Lake constructs a clever alternate universe based on this idea. He also inserts a clever religious theme. Unfortunately, characterization and quality of writing are not particularly good and the plot is perhaps too elaborate.
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on November 30, 2007
Lake does well with setting the stage and presenting uncommon ideas in a common and familiar era. Interesting characters, scenery and uncommon mechanical devices set the plot in an exciting direction towards a fascinating journey well up there with some of the most imaginative dreams to date.

Unfortunately well into the second half of the story everything mentioned previous stalls and leaves the reader wondering if there's a point in finishing the adventure. What's a build up to what could be an exciting bizzaro world of the story's period turns into a grinding reading experience leaving the reader puzzled where Lake lost the magic? The reader is taken from a wonderful fantasy world to a barely juvenile fantasy. Bit of a letdown but willing to take a look at Lakes next novel based on reviews.
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on July 20, 2012
I wanted to like Mainspring, I really did. The description of the story sounded interesting and the set up of the world intrigued me, but those two factors alone could not save this poorly writen tale.

Lets start with the main character, Hethor, I'm not sure that Jay Lake could decide how old he wanted his protaganist to be. At times (most of the book) Hethor acts like a child, throwing temper tantrums and displaying a complete lack of knowledge ways of the world, yet later in the book we find out that Hethor is old enough to shave like an adult. Also, all of the supporting characters treat Hethor like a child yet expect him to do things that only an adult should be doing. Oh, and while I am on the subject of Hethor, somehow he gets a mysterious power right at the end of the novel that he only uses once, has obviously never used before, yet has a complete understanding of it. I guess what it really boils down too for me when it comes to Hethor is that he is the most boring and most lack-luster character I have ever read about.

Oh yeah, and while I am thinking about, there is also a completely disgusting sex scene in the book between Hethor and his love intrest who is basicly an intelegent ape-like humaniod. Yeah, it was not cool, it almost made me vomit. I think Jay Lake was trying to write out some sick sexual fantasy of his but it was just disturbing.

Also, the way that this book is put together it feels like Jay Lake wrote a bunch of independant short stories that had nothing to do with each other and then he tried to mesh them together into a coherant full length novel. Because of this the story feels completely disjointed and not very well thought out. But you know what, I think i am just going to stop... The more I talk about this book the more worked up I get about the fact that I wasted my time pushing through this book in the hopes that it would get better when it only went downhill the entire way. Soon it was a struggle to finish... and I only finished it so that I could give it a fair review to warn others away from this piece of crap. I have no clue how TOR (a publisher that I really like) could let a book this horribly written get to an editors hands much less get published.

In closing, stay way from this book, in fact run from it if you see it.
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on January 29, 2011
I SOOO wanted to like this book. I still do love the premise - so much so that I may just borrow it and try to write a story of my own around it.

Though many other reviewers have already explained the plot, I'll briefly reiterate: Mainspring takes place in a universe where God's hand in Creation is a little more obvious than in our universe. The celestial bodies are all part of a giant clockwork mechanism carried through space on rings of brass. The spring which keeps the Earth moving as it should needs to be rewound. If it is not, the Earth will stop and all sorts of bad things will happen. One night the angel Gabriel shows up in the bedroom of Hethor Jacques. Gabriel explains that Hethor must find a special key, and rewind the Earth's mainspring.

The book contains two of my favorite subjects, a steampunk setting, and positive Christian themes. How could it not be good? Unfortunately I did not like the book. In fact I disliked it more than any book I've read in a long time. The problem with Mainspring is quite simply either the author, the editor, or both.

The story is choppy, as if most scenes/sections were written separately and then forced together in an attempt to create a longer story.


Characters are frequently motivated to action by knowledge that they don't/shouldn't have. This is because either they do not in fact have said knowledge, or because the author left out chunks of plot. Here are a few examples:

Early in the story, Hethor is falsely accused, by the son of his master (Hethor is a clock maker's apprentice), of stealing a silver feather. The accusation is made in order to discredit Hethor. The only way for the son to make Hethor look like a thief however is for Hethor to be in possession of the feather at the time of the accusation - there needs be evidence. So the son goes to his father and accuses Hethor of stealing the feather. Hethor is searched, and sure enough, he has the feather. The son's plan to discredit Hethor succeeds, and Hethor looses his apprenticeship. The problem is that based on the "scene" previous to the one I have just described, the son should be under the impression that Hethor DOES NOT have the feather. In fact the son should be under the impression that one of his superiors (where he studies/works) is in possession of the feather. The whole "scene" makes no sense.

At another point in the story, the narrator tells us that Hethor has decided it is important for him to get to know his current traveling companion intimately. Then, literally in the very next idea expressed in the narration, Hethor is standing alone after parting company with his companion. The reader goes from thinking this character is going to be important, to never hearing from her again in a split second.

Some of the plot holes/inconsistencies don't actually hurt the story, but they do cause the reader confusion; like in one "scene" where Hethor falls asleep on a pile of rags, but wakes up on a stone floor.

I am not being nit-picky by the way. These types of plot holes and inconsistencies fill the book.

The thing I found most bothersome was the author's inability - or unwillingness - to explain and define the fantasy world and culture he created.

Characters often react to situations in ways that seem odd to the reader. Hethor's master, for instance, knows his son is selfish, a liar, and a manipulator. Concerning the afore mentioned accusation of theft, the master even says that he knows Hethor is not a thief, and that he further knows that Hethor was falsely accused for his sons personal gain. But the master refuses to stand up to his son. Why? It's never explained. It's also never explained whether it's a personal, legal or social reason.

The author implies that society views women as generally untrustworthy, but he never explains why.

At one point in the story Hethor is thrown into prison - a very bizarre, surreal, disturbing prison - for no reason that the reader is ever made aware of. Hethor seems to not only accept his imprisonment, but he actually seems to expect it. He also does not seem concerned with the bizarre nature of the prison. Presumably, society in the world of Mainspring is much different than our own. Unfortunately the author never explains any of these differences. So the reader is left shaking his/her head in confusion.

I could go on with many more examples of the poor writing/editing, but I wont. Hopefully you get the general idea.

In short, Mainspring is a wonderful story idea that was VERY poorly written and/or edited. Hopefully someone will take the idea and turn it into a good book one day.
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VINE VOICEon September 4, 2007
But it's also not a great book. I can't say it's not worth reading but it's also not one I'll be telling everyone they HAVE to read. I think my biggest problem with the book was at no point in the novel did I ever feel like the main character would or could for that matter, fail in his task. It's all just too easy. In a book that's about man and God and man's relationship to God and God demands of man you'd expect the lead character to struggle, to truly have his faith challenged; instead the test of faith, the crux of the story, the resolution and solution are all jammed hurriedly into the last four or five pages.
The concept of a clockwork Earth is interesting but the development of that aspect of the story is slow to come and not gone into in any great depth.
It's worth reading. I did enjoyed it. I just think it had the potential to be a far better novel but never reached far or hard enough to get there.
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on March 4, 2008
How do you ruin a great short story? Turn it into a novel. Great premise (though not entirely original) that could have really gone somewhere if it had only gotten there sooner. For an author who made his name writing short stories, he really does yammer on in this novel. And the story's mainspring winds down about halfway through.

Lake should have deleted that third quarter of this book and put his energy into crafting a better ending. It wasn't that I didn't understand the ending, it was that I thought the ending was weak and hastily written. He spent long sections dwelling on pointless environmental detail during the adventure, but at the end, he summarizes major plot points in a single sentence.

Clearly it's a fable, probably an Intelligent Design fable... but I think that's just a stylistic choice to get off the hook for the weak logic. He alternates between reveling in his world building skills and describing things in detail, as if to say, "this could really work!" But when he gets too close to serious engineering questions, he leaves that vague and uses God to explain it. That's not Steampunk as some reviewers have said, that's Faithpunk. (Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about mechanical engineering will tell you that the gear he describes for the Earth's rotation would vibrate so horribly that not only would people near it go deaf, but the whole planet would also be shaken apart.)

Jay Lake comes off as very sharp and insightful in interviews. I wonder why there wasn't more of that in this book.
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on February 4, 2009
I was perhaps a chapter or two from finishing the book, but I tossed it away. By the second half of the book, I was only forcing myself to continue reading anyway, to finish it on principle. But really, I just didn't care anymore.

I can accept that the main character, a kid, being clueless and feeling vulnerable. Especially when he's mysteriously tasked by an angel with saving the world and then forced out of his limited comfort zone by everybody he's ever known. However, he just happens to immediately meet up with someone who apparently mobilizes an entire secret organization with agents conveniently around to help him, a nobody, along. He happens to be shanghaied to an airship which just happens to be going in the direction he needs to be headed, even if he didn't know it. He happens to be captured by strange alien creatures who for unexplained reasons, conveniently fly him to someone who seems knowledgeable about the problem he is tasked with, but of course, doesn't divulge anything meaningful. And no, the guy didn't ask the creatures to bring the kid.

Jumping ahead. To slow down the story's progress a bit, due to some events, the kid is in a fit of despair. Oh and guess what? He meets up with a tribe of ape-like humanoids who treat him like a messiah. A tribe of all males apparently, as there's only one female ever mentioned. She's the one caring for him in his depressed state, of course. He gets quite fond of her, especially when he loses his virginity with her. Did you see that coming? Her father, who is, of course, the tribe's leader, is fine with that. In fact, the whole tribe is fine with that. When he sets out to continue his quest, he's got a whole load of loyal followers. Which is convenient as they get killed off in bunches and bunches! Now one would assume a growing sense of desperation ought to be developing for the story, a build up of tension, but guess what? The kid doesn't care, the ape-girl doesn't care, the ape followers don't care, no one seems to care!

The kid, the ape-girl, and what's left of his ape followers reach their destination. How does he know? He doesn't. There's convenient divine aid in the form of an unexplained sudden appearance of a narrow climate controlled path leading to a shaft opening at the center of a meadow in the middle of the hostile environment they've been struggling through and were on the verge of dying. Why now and not while his followers are being killed? He enters the shaft and the end is near. But I don't care. I haven't cared for quite a while now.

Save your money. Pass on this one.
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on June 22, 2007
Mainspring is one of those books that you know is 5 stars within a few pages and the impression never leaves. It puts you in to the story immediately without a boring introduction. Even at the end, which I feel some ambivalence towards (having just finished it an hour ago), I felt I had read a particularly good book worth recommending to others. The book is in its essence a clockpunk heroes journey through a deeply imagined setting. If you have a love for any of the cyberpunk descended genres this book should satisfy you. But unlike most of the punk genres, faith is on the side of the heroes, since the hero is on a journey given to him by the archangel Gabriel. In many instances it is the faith of the hero and his allies that provides for them in crisis.
Much of the story felt like it would have been a masterwork of counter-cultural critique at the height of the British Empire which initially made it feel written too late, but on consideration seemed to apply just as much today to the casual hubris of modern empire. All of this makes the book sort of a slow read as I often felt compelled to think on what I had read rather than to keep reading. Don't mistake this for the book being preachy, it is not, it merely gives the amorphous feeling of meaningfulness and import. This might be due to how well the hero has been characterized. Since his entire journey is full of import and meaning to him, it passes that impression to the reader.
While there are a few tried and true recyclings in the book, most notably the discovery of sex leading to the realization that this is what has all the preachers angry on sunday, the book in the main avoids dully repeating what we have all seen before, even in other genres. It does follow the hero's journey, but Jay lake has definitely flexed his imagination in the execution of it. This book strays pleasantly from the beaten path and ends up being a true pleasure to read.
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on January 22, 2008
I honestly think Jay Lake just had no idea how to end the book. About halfway through, the story starts fizzling out, and it just goes downhill from there. It's a shame, because the idea was incredible, and as someone said, at the beginning you feel like it'll be a "five-star book." But it's clear that Lake didn't have any idea what to do with the stunning world he'd created, and he just sends his character wandering around aimlessly until the end. Not good.
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